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Why the Left Hates Palin

July 5th, 2009

Nate Silver has a very good read on this one:

Palin is the most Bushlike of all the Republicans who have emerged as contenders for the national ticket: the smirkiness, the smugness, the regional accent (although Palin’s, I assume, is not feigned), the malapropisms, the contempt for media (both the people who cover it and their mediums), the express deference to religious faith, the occasionally undeniably likable moments of joviality and regular guy/gal-ness, the tendency toward self-dealing, the bulldog/barracuda mentality, the comfort in one’s own skin (Palin was crippled when she lost hers late in the campaign), the (apparent) preference for isolation in [Wasilla, Crawford], and last but not least, the no-holds-barred, no-apologies conservatism.

However, Nate missed perhaps one of the biggest similarities between the two: the lack of competence. When we first heard of Palin, the first reaction was, what are her qualifications? The answer turned out to be, almost none. That started the uneasiness–that a cancer-surviving septuagenarian candidate was choosing a running mate with little more than mayoral experience to be a heartbeat away from world leadership. And the more we saw of Palin, the more this initial impression was reinforced. She said she had good credentials in foreign policy because you can see a part of Russia from a part of Alaska? Because Putin flies over her state sometimes? She said that? It didn’t take long to realize that this person was not only unqualified for the presidency, she was dangerously unqualified. Silver’s likening Palin to Bush is most relevant in this regard; after eight years of a moron running the country, we recoiled at the thought of another moron taking his place. That she shared so many of the other qualities Bush had only cemented that feeling.

Silver’s analysis was sparked by a quote from Hot Air’s Allahpundit (the key sentence emphasized by Silver), who held that we despise her because of the

sheer contempt they have for her intellect. To the left, I think, she embodies a sort of comfort with ignorance that they think characterizes most/all conservatives. Why they’ve come to see her that way is complicated (part of it’s probably educational pedigree, part of it’s her affinity for rural pastimes like hunting, part of it’s the Katie Couric interview and the canned answers she gave at the debate with Biden), but I think it’s a mistake to assume that their antipathy is rooted in nothing but fear and defensiveness.

The part Silver highlighted is a good quote, to be sure, but it’s worth noting the reason Allahpundit ascribes to the liberal discomfort with her intellect. He seems to think we see her as ignorant because (a) she’s not a graduate of some elitist ivy-league university, (b) she’s from rural America, and (c) because she gave bad answers in an interview and at a debate.

The first idea, that her education was not good enough, is laughable. I don’t think that anyone paid much attention to that. Does anyone remember what school she went to? I don’t, and frankly I don’t care. I don’t recall anyone on the left criticizing her education, save for possible references to which major she had–but even that was rarely mentioned. The second idea, that we think she’s ignorant because she’s from the sticks, is a knee-jerk conservative response: those elitist coastal liberals hate the “real” America. All one has to do is remember Bill Clinton to realize that this is patently false. And the third idea is flawed only because it is far too limited in scope. Sure, canned answers were not a good thing–they revealed that she could not answer substantive questions on her own–but to say that liberals got the idea that she’s ignorant just from that is like saying that the entirety of conservatives’ dislike for Obama stems from the flag lapel-pin issue.

Allahpundit seems to actually believe that Palin is not ignorant, which we can ascribe to bias; but what is more interesting is the blindness as to why liberals see Palin as ignorant. Either he is not aware of the real reason, or he is uncomfortable mentioning it–perhaps because the reason is so salient. We see Palin as ignorant because she has amply demonstrated that she is. She is clearly an intellectual lightweight–not because she’s a woman, not because she’s from a rural area, but because she has demonstrated it, again and again.

The “I can see Alaska from my house” issue is emblematic: here is a person who seems to actually believe she has strong foreign policy credentials because the farthest reaches of the state she comes from is in viewing distance from the outermost reaches of another country which is controlled from a city 3,700 miles from that border. And she wasn’t joking. She repeated it. She genuinely seemed to believe it.

Did this not worry anyone on the right? Did they not see the problem with someone who could look you square in the eye and make this claim? There are only two possibilities with a statement like that: either she is an unbelievable moron, or she thinks that you are.

Next to her lack of intelligence, the next greatest concern liberals have with Palin–also similar to Bush–is her mendacity. The fact that she could lie–not only lie, but lie so constantly, and lie so transparently–was immensely troubling. The reason so many liberals liked McCain back in 2000 was that we felt he was being truthful. His policies were out of whack with ours, but at least we felt that he was giving us a straight deal, that he respected us and was willing to put it all down on the table and be straight. McCain eventually reversed himself and became a politician’s politician, but even then he tried to capitalize on this image with his whole “straight talk” campaign.

Palin epitomized the antithesis to that image. It seemed that every other word out of her mouth was not only a lie, but a really bad lie. As I mentioned above, it smacked of smug contempt: “I think that you’re so stupid that you’ll believe this incredibly idiotic line I’m feeding you.” And that’s the generous reading–the not-so-generous reading was that she wasn’t lying, but actually believed the lies she was telling.

So yes, we think Palin is ignorant, or worse. And yes, we are uncomfortable because she reminds us in many ways of Bush. But Nate Silver doesn’t reach far back enough in his comparisons. For as much as Palin resembles Bush, Palin and Bush resemble Reagan. And that gets to a more root cause of our discomfort with all of them: smug, amiable dunces who take the rugged-outdoorsmen pose, claim piety, lie indiscriminately, and are unapologetically hard-line right-wingers who allow extremist neocons to run the show behind the scenes. It’s as if the right-wing has found its perfect genotype, and keeps pushing it into leadership roles. And that’s what scares the crap out of us liberals–because we can see all too clearly the incredible damage such people have done to our country.

  1. matthew
    July 5th, 2009 at 17:43 | #1

    Great post Luis. Agree completely about Palin.

  2. Leszek Cyfer
    July 5th, 2009 at 18:04 | #2

    I do not know US affairs deep enough – could You elaborate a bit what damage have Reagan made to the country? Thanks

    Leszek Cyfer,

  3. Leszek Cyfer
    July 9th, 2009 at 17:32 | #3

    I ask nicely – Please? :)

  4. Luis
    July 9th, 2009 at 21:23 | #4


    Sorry, I have been submerged in studying for my midterms.

    Reagan began several very dangerous trends in American politics. The primary theme among them is image over substance. While creating false realities may be an old political practice, Reagan raised the practice to an art and a way of political life. He began a culture of manipulation which was of a different quality than ever before, wholly unrelated to reality whenever he so desired.

    But one of the most damning things about him is the False Front. Reagan began a trend, continued in Dubya, and alive still in Palin, of the ambitious figurehead, the person with an absolutist point of view but little real understanding of the reality. Before Reagan (and after him among the Democrats), presidents were people who, for good or bad, understood politics and were keen intellects, or at least people with depth and substance. There were exceptions, but generally that’s who we got. An actor, Reagan was excellent at creating false realities, and you can see the same quality in Bush and Palin. But they are not dangerous just for this, they are dangerous because they represent one-person Potemkin Villages–flag-waving, bible-thumping facades behind which the real players infiltrate, saturate, and poison the government so that it may be wielded as a tool by people who care for it no more than they would for a hammer or a saw, happy to eviscerate it for their personal and ideological agendas. Reagan used his “great communicator” skills to make the people love the administration that was quietly destroying them.

    A key point in this destruction is the financial sacking of the nation, the transference of wealth and the culture of debt. While Reagan was plunging the nation into debt and making the people believe that this was a good thing, his players were making their first move on our financial systems, which culminated with the Savings & Loan bailout. It is no coincidence that at roughly the same time in Bush’s term we saw the Subprime crisis similarly cost the taxpayers unheard-of magnitudes of money; it seems to be the earmark of such administrations to suck the country dry throughout the terms, and when it comes to an end, go for broke and pillage what’s left.

    Another aspect of this financial ransacking is tax rates, services, and the gap between rich and poor. Contrast Reagan and Bush 43 with Clinton (Bush 41 was relatively neutral) and the distinction is impossible to miss; as mild as Clinton’s tax hikes on the rich were, and as tough as he could be in cutting services, there was really no contest. Reagan and Bush 43 actively campaigned to make the country hostile to the very idea of higher taxes for rich people and services for poor people. Reagan with his vilifying of the lower class with welfare-queen stereotypes and his “Me Generation” glorification of greed, Bush with his “it’s only fair to shower the rich with money” arguments, his “be patriotic, spend more” call to ‘sacrifice,’ and his “only in America can a person have 3 jobs isn’t that fantastic” disregard for the working class. In the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations, debt and deficit skyrocketed, the poor swelled in number and the rich swelled in wealth; under Clinton, we magically saw an actual surplus, the rising tide lifted all boats, and the American economy swelled–unfortunately just enough for the Reagan-like Bush administration to pull off a replay of the 80’s.

    It was pretty much summarized in the post: Reagan started the trend now almost sacred among the right wing, of a smug, amiable dunce who takes the rugged-outdoorsman pose, claims piety, lies indiscriminately, and is an unapologetically hard-line right-winger who allows extremist neocons to run the show behind the scenes. That’s Reagan’s legacy. Bush revived it, and Palin lives up to that image to a tee. Imagine Obama does manage to save the country from the almost unimaginable depths Bush 43 has dragged us down to; if Palin somehow wins office in 2016, then she will almost unquestionably take us down the exact same path. A conspiracy theorist might even imagine that the neocons are intentionally letting the Democrats win a few elections to get the country ripe for the next harvest; it is certainly undeniable from the record that Democrats do far better for the economy than Republicans, creating more jobs, more real wealth, and even more profit for the wealthy. But they have the annoying habit of wanting everyone to benefit from the fruits of the nation’s labor (Socialists! Communists! Nazis! UnAmerican!), and we just can’t have that.


  5. Leszek Cyfer
    July 10th, 2009 at 05:52 | #5

    Thank you Luis. You are right, the greedy took over the America some time ago, and now they’re lurking to strike when the apple is ripe again…

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