She Stoops to Conquer

Maybe it’s that old if-you-have-to-ask thing. If you have to ask you’ll never know – you’re hopeless, as with Louis Armstrong smiling and saying that if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know. The hip, the aware, the enlightened, the good people – they already know. They’ve always known. And they also know who also knows, and who doesn’t. Without words, or any kind of signals or signs, they recognize each other, and recognize who just doesn’t belong. So ask your questions, if you feel you must. It won’t do any good. You won’t understand the answer, ever. You’re not wired that way – and maybe there isn’t even an answer. Some things just are.

And of course that’s a political style. You nod to those in the know, and they nod back. Nothing need be said, really. And there was a bit of that going on in the recent off-off-year elections, where the Republicans picked up two governorships and lost the two open congressional seats. The nod was the last minute barrage of robocalls from Sarah Palin:

“Virginia, hello, this is Sarah Palin calling to urge you to go to the polls Tuesday and vote to share our principles,” the former Alaska governor says in the call, which was provided to CNN by one Democrat who recorded it. “The eyes of America will be on Virginia and make no mistake about it, every vote counts. So don’t take anything for granted, vote your values on Tuesday, and urge your friends and family to vote, too.”

Those were the Vote-Sarah-Palin’s-Values calls. And yes, she never mentioned her actual values. If you have to ask you’ll never know. Real Americans know, and have those values. They don’t have to be stated. What would be the point in that? And people who live in big cities, or on the coasts, or anywhere that’s not rural, and who have fancy college educations, and who speak with fluency and sophistication, and who think science explains things and not the Bible, and think Hollywood movies are fine, will never get it. They’re not wired that way. They ask questions about those values. And they make fun of you when you sigh and list a few. What’s the point?

It’s in-the-know politics. Yes, it’s narrow, but the idea is you win elections by making swing voters uncomfortable – sooner or later they realize that they’re the rubes, and something is going on that they’re not a part of, so out of fear, that they’re just not with it, they make a leap of faith and become hangers-on, and vote your way. No one wants to be left out. You may never be part of the club, one of the insiders, but maybe you can hang around with them. It’s not exactly identity politics. It’s more like junior high.

But what are the values? Do they have something to do with despising science, modernity, technology, and higher education – in favor of Heartland Values?

Near the end of Christopher Hitchens’ review of a new book extolling Sarah Palin there’s this:

The United States has to stand or fall by being the preeminent nation of science, modernity, technology, and higher education. Some of these needful phenomena, for historical reasons, will just happen to concentrate in big cities and in secular institutions and even – yes – on the dreaded East Coast.

Matthew Yglesias riffs on that:

Quite so. Cultural/political tensions between metropolitan types and provincial types are a perennial feature of politics. But actually one of the nice things about the United States is that it’s very big and spread out and we don’t have an overweening “main city” in the manner of Paris. But as a nation we’re long past the point when our prosperity depended primarily on the productivity of our agriculture and the vast extent of our rural land. The research universities and major business enterprises that are the foundation of our way of life are, overwhelmingly, in major metropolitan areas. Not because there’s anything wrong with the people of rural Alaska, but because that’s how the world works.

The idea of making dislike of metropolitan American (or perhaps all of metropolitan America except Houston) the basis of your approach to governing is pretty nuts.

But the book in question, from Matthew Continetti, is The Persecution of Sarah Palin – where he says that liberal rap on her is no more than “a distaste for those who hail from outside America’s coastal metropolises; a revulsion toward people who do not aspire to adopt the norms, values, politics, and attitudes of the Eastern cultural elite.”

But what do they aspire to? Max Blumenthal, who follows the religious right, offers this item where he notes that despite the fact that polls show she is massively unpopular among mainstream Americans, and mocked and reviled by conservative intellectuals, her hold on the base of the Republican Party is obviously growing by leaps and bounds.

Blumenthal suggests there’s a reason for that, and it isn’t political:

The answer lies beyond the realm of polls and punditry in the political psychology of the movement that animates and, to a great degree, controls, the Republican grassroots – a uniquely evangelical subculture defined by the personal crises of its believers and their perceived persecution at the hands of cosmopolitan elites.

By emphasizing her own crises and her victimization by the “liberal media,” Palin has established an invisible, indissoluble bond with adherents of that subculture – so visceral it transcends any rational political analysis. As a result, her career has become a vehicle through which the right-wing evangelical movement feels it can express its deepest identity in opposition both to secular society and to its representatives in the Obama White House. Palin is perceived by its leaders – and followers – not as another cynical politician or even as a self-promoting celebrity, but as a kind of magical helper, the God-fearing glamour girl who parachuted into their backwater towns to lift them from the drudgery of everyday life, assuring them that they represented the “Real America.”

Or, as Digby says here:

These are the bitter-enders who stuck with Junior all the way to the end, even though many of them have probably abandoned him now. She seamlessly took his place in their hearts and minds as the True Believer who would smite the liberal terrorists (are there any other kind?) and cut their taxes for Jesus.

But she knows that’s unfair and points to this article in The Atlantic by Hannah Rosin, which is, oddly, on the Gospel of Wealth:

America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture, and Casa del Padre is no exception. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity. In Garay’s church, God is the “Owner of All the Silver and Gold,” and with enough faith, any believer can access the inheritance. Money is not the dull stuff of hourly wages and bank-account statements, but a magical substance that comes as a gift from above. Even in these hard times, it is discouraged, in such churches, to fall into despair about the things you cannot afford. “Instead of saying ‘I’m poor,’ say ‘I’m rich,'” Garay’s wife, Hazael, told me one day. “The word of God will manifest itself in reality.”

Hannah Rosin is not making this up. Been there, seen it, listened to the pitch – although that was a long time ago at an odd little chapel in Santa Monica, as a courtesy to a friend. The friend is still poor as dirt, of course.

Rosin brings us to the here and now:

Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America’s middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture – a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

In his book Something for Nothing, Jackson Lears describes two starkly different manifestations of the American dream, each intertwined with religious faith. The traditional Protestant hero is a self-made man. He is disciplined and hardworking, and believes that his “success comes through careful cultivation of (implicitly Protestant) virtues in cooperation with a Providential plan.” The hero of the second American narrative is a kind of gambling man – a “speculative confidence man,” Lears calls him, who prefers “risky ventures in real estate,” and a more “fluid, mobile democracy.”

The self-made man imagines a coherent universe where earthly rewards match merits. The confidence man lives in a culture of chance, with “grace as a kind of spiritual luck, a free gift from God.” The Gilded Age launched the myth of the self-made man, as the Rockefellers and other powerful men in the pews connected their wealth to their own virtue. In these boom-and-crash years, the more reckless alter ego dominates. In his book, Lears quotes a reverend named Jeffrey Black, who sounds remarkably like Garay: “The whole hope of a human being is that somehow, in spite of the things I’ve done wrong, there will be an episode when grace and fate shower down on me and an unearned blessing will come to me – that I’ll be the one.”

Digby connects the dots:

Rosin’s argument is that this was a cause of the housing bubble and the subsequent meltdown and she’s pretty convincing. But I think it could also end up being the conservative movement’s salvation if people’s lives don’t materially improve fairly soon.

If there’s a path to patching over the differences between the intellectual elite, the Big Money Boyz and the base after the Bush debacle, this offers some promise if handled deftly. The populist message doesn’t come from a class basis, but a religious one and it offers not a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, but riches on earth and a heavenly reward. Powerful stuff.

Failure, redemption, riches, heaven. Sounds like just what the witchdoctor ordered.

And somehow those seem to be the Palin Values. But it’s hard to know. She doesn’t explain them. If you have to ask you’ll never know.

But inquiring minds want to know, as they say. And, on Monday, November 16, they got their chance to know, as Sarah Palin sat down with Oprah Winfrey for a nationalized television interview, to explain it all, or at least to promote her new book, “Going Rogue” – or to launch her bid for the White House in 2012, or something. She Stoops to Conquer, or something.

But it didn’t work out that way, and Alex Koppelman watched so you didn’t have to, and he offers this account with these observations:

Whatever it is, it is not Sarah Palin’s fault. Whether it’s the emotional damage her daughter suffered as a result of her pregnancy becoming national news, the wardrobe she and her family were given during last year’s presidential campaign, her slamming her own campaign over its decision to pull out of Michigan or anything else, someone else is to blame.

That, at least, is the message Palin hit repeatedly during her interview with Oprah Winfrey…

Often, these excuses stretched the bounds of the former Alaska governor’s credibility. When, for example, Winfrey pressed Palin about her daughter Bristol’s pregnancy and the way it was handled during the presidential campaign, Palin tried to portray herself as having no role whatsoever in Bristol’s being “devastated” when the news broke. It wasn’t Palin’s decision to accept the Republican vice-presidential nomination that made the pregnancy a national story – it was “the haters,” “the critics,” who just wanted to delve into her personal life. If she was naïve, well, it’s just that she was “naïve to think that the media would leave my kids alone.” Also, the McCain campaign was at fault for an overly “giddy” statement about Bristol being pregnant – Palin herself wouldn’t have glamorized it so much. (Presumably the McCain campaign also forced her to bring Bristol and then-boyfriend Levi Johnston to the Republican National Convention.)

Everyone is picking on her. See Max Blumenthal above – persecution at the hands of cosmopolitan elites. That was it – theme and variations.

Koppelman adds this:

There are, no doubt, serious problems with the former governor’s media strategy. But on this score, she actually did pretty well for herself. Her sit-down with Winfrey was naturally going to be seen as the big adversarial interview of her book tour – but it was almost completely free of the difficult questions, the probing, that a newsperson might have asked. Winfrey pressed her a couple times, most obviously on the subject of Bristol, but for the most part, Palin was only asked to recount the version of events from her book, and not to worry about anything interrupting the narrative in which she is blameless.

It was a warm-up for Rush Limbaugh, scheduled for the following day.

Actually, Tracy Clark-Flory calls it Palin’s dream interview:

Sarah Palin has finally gotten the interview to which she felt so entitled. … Oprah Winfrey delivered the “lighthearted” chat the former vice-presidential candidate says she was led to expect from her infamous sit-down with Katie Couric. Sure, there were some obligatory questions about her vice-presidential run, but she wasn’t pressed on political strategy, policy or even what newspaper she reads. It wasn’t so much a campaign retrospective as it was a soft-focus Lifetime biopic.

No sooner did the show start than the intended narrative become clear: An Everywoman – just like Oprah! – wronged. First, there was the McCain camp, which made her over with a pricey designer wardrobe on the campaign trail. It “was fun, exciting,” she said, but it was also insulting: “I thought, This is one of those relationships you have when we’re young and they say, ‘Oh, I love you the way you are,’ and then they try to change you.” To recap: Politics are like an emotionally unhealthy romance. …

And Palin brought up those attacks by the media:

She didn’t prep much for her interview with Katie Couric – or, “the perky one,” as Palin called her – because she was led to believe it would be “a lighthearted thing.” She expected it to be “a working mom speaking with a working mom” about “the challenge we have dealing with teenage daughters.”

Making it a news interview wasn’t fair. Why was she being asked about how and what she thought, and what she read and all that policy stuff. She’d been sandbagged, and anyway, everyone just wanted to mock her, and her family:

When the media wasn’t targeting her directly, they were assailing her family, Palin said. “I was naive to think that the media would leave my kids alone,” she told Oprah. After news got out about Bristol’s pregnancy, the McCain campaign drafted a statement giving the impression that the Palins were “giddy, happy to be grandparents,” she said. That wasn’t the message she wanted to deliver: Palin saw it as an opportunity “to tackle the problem of teen pregnancy in America” – but the statement was released as is, regardless.

Now that the campaign is over, though, she’s free to deliver her intended message by way of her 19-year-old daughter: “[Bristol’s] only public mission is to remind her sisters and other girls, her peers, that there are consequences to unprotected sex. She’s saying, ‘Girls, wait, your entire future will change if you become pregnant.'” She continued with the wholesome, family-values tack by extolling Bristol’s virtues as a mom (at the same time she acknowledged the 19-year-old has it easier than a lot of other teenage moms) and calling into question the paternal devotion of her grandson’s father, Levi Johnston. She scored additional family-friendly points for calling it “heartbreaking” to see Johnston, who is posing nude for Playgirl, doing “aspiring porn.”

This is presidential? If you have to ask you’ll never get it.

And the core of it was surreal:

In addition to Oprah’s softballs, Monday’s episode treated us to vignettes of Palin in her natural habitat of Wasilla, Alaska: We were shown the mother of five getting pumped for a step aerobics class at the gym; the whole Palin gang getting together to make candy apples for Halloween; and 8-year-old Piper trick-or-treating as her mother trails behind in the family station wagon and rolls down the window to shout, “Good job!” Toward the end of the show, Palin shrewdly squeezed in a mention of how as a stay-at-home mom she got to watch Oprah every afternoon and found her an inspiring example of “a normal American woman with a lot on your plate” – you know, just like Palin, a totally average American woman. This comparison is rendered rather terrifying when you consider that Palin refused to answer a question about whether it was true that she would be getting her very own talk show.

Of course Oprah asked whether Palin was considering a run for president in 2012 – but she said it isn’t even on her “radar screen.” She added, “You don’t need a title to make a difference.” (She didn’t use the word “office” or “position of power” so she seems to have that beauty pageant thing going, where you get a “title.”)

And she may get one. See Gary Langer – Sarah Palin: Rogue for President?  Or Donald Douglas, American Power: GOP Nomination is Palin’s for the Taking. Or Walter Shapiro, Politics Daily: How Palin Could Win the 2012 GOP Nomination.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, says those three are encouraging, actually:

That first one points to how unpopular she is, the next two talk only about her becoming the GOP candidate. Okay, it’s maybe a bit early for all this, but still: In a one-candidate race, Sarah Palin seems to be running in last place.

Yes, in a the most current ABC News/Washington Post poll, Greg Sargent did the analysis – only 37 percent of independents and 30 percent of self-described moderates think she’s qualified for the presidency, and 58 percent of moderates view her unfavorably. And of course Palin’s approval rating with men is higher than with women – 48 percent to 39 percent, and only one third of women believe she’d be qualified to be president. But Rasmussen – the polling group for the Republican base – finds that 59 percent of Republicans identify with Palin. They don’t say she qualified for the job. They just identify with her. But there may be no difference in the end.

Heck, you may remember the famous Leave Britney Alone video – so check out the Leave Sarah Alone video. (Yes, it’s satire – and Heather McDonald, a writer for Chelsea Lately, the hip show from the hippest neighborhood in Manhattan these days, Chelsea.) And there is a parallel item – the most respected man in America, or on Fox News, G. Gordon Liddy – “I’m convinced that despite his protestations to the contrary, that Barack Obama is a Muslim. I don’t believe that he’s a Christian at all. I believe he’s a Muslim.” That one’s not a satire. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

But Joan Walsh has an admission – “I have Palin fatigue already.”

Of course she does, but she offers some interesting observations, and doesn’t think Palin can run for president:

Palin sealed that fate when she quit being governor (although maybe she can run with Lou Dobbs on the All Quitters ticket in 2012). She’ll never obtain the record or the reliability she needs to run credibly for president now that she gave up the modestly challenging job of running Alaska. I don’t see her ever having the self-discipline or the humility to admit how very much she’d need to learn to be remotely qualified.

On top of everything else, she seems like a vindictive, spiteful person, judging from her reputation in Alaska politics, her open warfare with the McCain campaign and her juvenile tit-for-tat with her 19-year-old grandbaby-daddy Levi Johnston. If she can’t brush off Levi’s provocations, how would she handle Ahmadinejad? Or Joe Lieberman? …

And then there are all the polls where Palin is dead in the water. But Walsh does have a warning – “It may be fun to mock Sarah Palin, but Democrats shouldn’t laugh at many of the people who admire her – who see a folksy, new kind of self-made mom trying to fight the bad old Eastern elites.” You see, lots of people are mad at the eastern elites – Goldman Sachs, bankers getting bailed out, and losing the job, and thus the health insurance, and then the house, while the slick city folks get their big bonuses. Walsh thinks Obama had better get cracking on those issues.

And sometimes it’s just the minor things, like Palin on vegetarianism:

“If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?”

I love meat. I eat pork chops, thick bacon burgers, and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak. But I especially love moose and caribou. I always remind people from outside our state that there’s plenty of room for all Alaska’s animals—right next to the mashed potatoes.

Digby comments:

I think that’s actually very clever of Palin. It’s the modern equivalent of a successful Reagan line from the sixties that hippies “look like Tarzan, walk like Jane and smell like Cheetah.” It’s a way of tweaking the liberals and people of all political stripes love that stuff. It’s tried and true conservative politics and she has a knack for delivering those kinds of lines, just as it was for St. Ronnie.

Her ignorance of everything else is what will likely keep her from becoming more than a political celebrity, but I can see why she’s so popular among the wingnuts. Just like Reagan, she knows how to give voice to their hatred with a joke and a smile on her face. It’s a unique gift.

And one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers puts it this way:

She has constructed a perfect dynamic for herself with the media: she says whatever she wants, scripts herself into her own fantastical world where she is the heroine, and then, after thorough coverage on every network, is rightly called on it.

That just feeds the fire of her “victimization” and is more red meat for her witless followers. The very serious Republican pols and pundits may groan, but were she to rally enough of a following and show herself to be a viable candidate, would they not fall in line? It’s always a win-win for Sarah.

She has taken to heart the most egregious of the Bush era theories: “when we act we create our own reality.”

It’s downright postmodern. And she gets the press. And Sullivan finds that coverage dangerous:

I also believe this kind of acquiescence to fantasy, especially when it is directly connected to a political movement is extremely dangerous. It is part of what enabled Bush and Cheney to maintain the fiction that they were acting legally and within constitutional norms as they did what they did in the last eight years. The creation of reality has to be challenged somewhere.

But what’s the fun in that? It was her day to shine. And he, and so many others, just don’t get it, and keeping asking questions, the answers to which they cannot understand. That’s the set-up.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to She Stoops to Conquer

  1. raymcinnis says:

    alan, when i saw “stoops to conquer” this morning — ignoring the “she” — as in oliver goldsmith’s classic — my first thought was that you were satirizing the rightwing reaction — ridicule — to the image of obama “bowing” (ie, stooping) to the japanese emperor, only for them to find out later that photos of eisenhower and nixon bowing to the japanese emperor also exist, and that it is only a common tradition. so much for rightwing american triumphalism!

  2. raymcinnis says:

    i looked at your piece this morning first thing, not knowing that politico actually had an article on the incident:

    it turns out that the so-called “politics of deference” was hatched in the WH before departure on the trip.

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