Joan Walsh has yet another article on Salon today about the many lies Sarah Palin has been telling lately, and Rachel Maddow spent a good part of her broadcast on Tuesday deconstructing the bizarre illogic Palin has used to defend her actions this time around. It’s nice to see someone else express the teeth-grinding frustration I feel when listening to Palin say things that are patently untrue to the applause of her countless fans.
But at this point, I wonder if we’re playing a losing game when we subject Palin’s nonsense to the sort of rigorous analysis one might use on genuine political discourse. I’m not suggesting that if we ignore her, she’ll go away. But I am starting to think that picking apart her language as if anyone expected it to actually make sense raises her statements to the level of thoughtful contributions to an informed discussion, when that’s neither what they are nor what they are intended to be–nor why they have the power to move her constituency. It’s not they’re stooping to her level, more that they’re raising her to the level liberals tend to associate with democratic discourse. The more the policy wonks dissect the minutiae of her statements, the more weight is given to the idea that she is making a reasoned or thoughtful contribution to political debate.
Perhaps more crucially, not one of these critiques will make a bit of difference to her many supporters, since any attack on her untruthfulness or illogic will simply be put down as ‘elitism’ anyway. Of course, this view of her as an ignoramus is part of how she presents herself as a victim: ‘Poor me, the liberal media will never give me any credit.’ But the fact is, she doesn’t need the media to give her credit, just airtime, and that’s exactly what even the most disparaging accounts of her behavior continue to do.
If liberals must discuss and deconstruct Palin–and given that she apparently garners viewers/readers at the moment, the media is probably not going to stop following her every move–they would do better to show up as propaganda the things that Palin actually depends on for her support, which seem to have nothing to do with logic and everything to do with identification. What I have heard from Palin supporters is mostly celebrations of her likeness to them, particularly those class, region and religion markers that made her so ‘different’ and ‘surprising’ as a candidate to the mainstream: her folksy accent, her motherhood of a giant brood, her supposed Christian sense of service, her state-college degree, her waders. (And to be fair, progressive supporters of Obama did the same thing, announcing that he was ‘one of us’ even as his centrist tendencies and compulsive need to compromise were always evident to anyone looking closely.)
Part of the reason this persona is so powerful is that it isn’t one we see on the national stage very often–despite W’s attempts to seem like just one of the born-again folks rather than a silver-spooned Yalie whose daddy got him a job. And metropolitan and class elitism does play a foundational and highly problematic role in our government. So if it’s Palin’s persona rather than her plans or promises that is the major draw, the best attack is not on the persona–which would simply underscore the very elitist assumptions she relies on for her victim status–but the fact that she sullies and travesties that persona, using regional, rural, working-class associations cynically for her own advancement, in a way that does a disservice to everyone who identifies with her.