Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Cutural Populism vs. Intellectual Elitism

Here’s Yuval reflecting on the true meaning of the Palin phenomenon. Sarah really wasn’t mainly a cultural populist until both the intellectual elite (with its paranoid feeling of moral vulnerability) and the real cultural populists (needing their Joan of Arc) made her into one. So Sarah felt both more love and more hate than any candidate in recent years. We learned that cultural populism--or the idea that the country should be governed by the sound moral opinions of real people with real lives (vs. virtual people with bourgeois bohemian lives)--is a potent force, but it has to be given real content by articulate candidates to be politically effective. The best form of government, to distort Jefferson just a bit, is an aristocracy of talent and virtue that governs according the genuine wisdom of the people.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Of course it is easy to spin out the differences between the real and the virtual people, much like the republicans announced the real and the unreal americans in the campaign. Yet most of the posts on this site are deferred expressions, like machines leaving messages on other machines, absorbed and reabsorbed. It is the right wing blogger who is virtual here, locked into the medium of unreal exchange, for the substitution of thought. No wonder for you Palin was a blog-goddess, a cipher, the post-modern, readied for production, consumption, and absorption. She would never have had such value as a political entity if she had not been given the chance - to both re- and disappear. The illusion, artifice, seduction, the hot librarian, the plastic surgery for the political soul. We are everything our websites say we are.

Stert, ---------- but what of the messiah? Where does he figure in, in all of this? And what of his followers? Governor Palin a "cipher?" But was she the one wandering the country issuing one banal comment after another, all focused on "hope" and "change."

And one thing more Stert, --------- would you consider Sarah Palin to be an attractive woman or not. Do you think she's sexually desirable?

I say absolutely. Sarah Palin oozes sex appeal. I think any man would be fortunate indeed to be hooked up with her. But what's your opinion on the matter? The reason I ask is that you're seemingly suggesting her desirablity, her feminine wiles, are a mere social construct conjured up by us.

Rest assured Stert, the GOP doesn't have the imagination to have conjured up a Sarah Palin.

So let's just take it as a given that we didn't make up her looks. And you might do well to recall the emergence of Jennifer Granholm on the political stage. I well remember Chris Matthews and others constantly fixating on her looks. They couldn't praise her looks enough, {she's a mildly attractive woman, but she's no Sarah Palin...}. But when someone else appears, who also is a Governor, an up and comer, but from another party, those that noticed her appearance, [and looking at Sarah Palin, a man is hard-pressed NOT to notice her looks...} are participating in some sort of media hoax, or projecting an image as you suggest, ready made for absorption.

Your judgement on the matter is too damning. And your comment too harsh. You need to give it some time, give it a year, and then revisit the issue.

I want to comment on the idea that ReThuglicans are Anti-Intellectual.
Intellectual means two different things (a, noun) a social class and (b, adjective) relating to thought.
The Republicans are certainly against an elitist class that feels they are better than “the little Proletariat people” and therefore it is their God given right to rule.


Democrats, on the other hand, in order to avoid the cardinal sin of “Discrimination” have become utterly Indiscriminate. The ability to think and judge the difference between two things (ideas, objects, people, etc.) is repugnant to them. In order to avoid “Discrimination” they must remain “willfully stupid” less their eye offend them (and they must pluck it out). This leads to people who are well credentialed but poorly thinking. This is obviously a betrayal of centuries of Humanist tradition.



So, Republicans are anti-intellectual in an anti-elitist way.


Whereas, Democrats are anti-intellectual in an anti-thought way.

That was more interesting than most analyses I've read of the Palin phenomenon.

This made me pause:

"This is why Palin was seen as anti-intellectual when, properly speaking, she was simply non-intellectual. What she lacked was not intelligence—she is, clearly, highly intelligent—but rather the particular set of assumptions, references, and attitudes inculcated by America’s top twenty universities..."

Why is it so clear that she's "highly intelligent"? What has she ever said or done that would provide clear evidence that she's "highly intelligent"? I certainly wouldn't say that she's UNintelligent, and I hardly limit my definition of "highly intelligent" only to Ivy League grads, but I saw/read/heard very little from her that immediately made me think, oh yes, this person's "highly intelligent."

And I found this to be fairly problematic:

"Many of those (including especially those on the Right) who reacted badly to Palin on intellectual grounds understand themselves to be advancing the interests of lower-middle-class families similar to Palin’s own family..."

If Yuval's talking about being economically "lower-middle-class" then once again I'm at a loss to understand the Right's skewed conception of what the "middle" - or in this case, laughably, "lower-middle" - is. The Palins took in around a quarter of a million dollars ($230K) in '07, have a big, half-million dollar home on a lake with paved-road access, in addition to their 2 vacation retreat homes, and seem to be well beyond "lower-middle-class". The median household income in Alaska in '07 was $64K. Further, Palin reported having no credit card debt on her last report as governor. Meanwhile the average American has just under $10K. The Palins are in a situation that "lower-middle-class" Americans wouldn't recognize, unless of course they had dropped a few tax brackets over time.

So, I guess in some ways it makes sense. While I saw very few bad reactions to Palin here at NLT (praise for "our Sarah" certainly outweighed the critiques) on intellectual grounds, I can see how Republicans (like most of the NLT bloggers) "understand themselves to be advancing the interests of lower-middle-class families similar to Palin’s own family" - as long as we can overlook the inaccuracy of calling such a family economically "lower-middle-class". Advancing the interests of those who are comfortable (and then some) - and not a whole lot else.

Are left-liberals 'intellectual' and right-conservatives not? I've always found that absurd. Some of the dumbest people I've ever met were liberals...they substitute recipe knowledge for thinking. They elevate science (at least, the science they agree with) into a religion, and they have a foolish faith in government (faith indeed, since the track record of government is poor or mixed at best with regard to human welfare). Liberals are people who can be led around by the nose, even worse that those poor benighted gun-tottin' hillbillies that always vote for the GOP. Indeed, the Left always thinks it is "post-bigotry," but look at how they hate on some people (e.g., Palin).

No, the Left is comprised of truly stupid (i.e., unwise) people who refuse to do their own thinking. Deep down, what scares them is the FACT that they are prisoners of human nature just like we poor reactionary yokels. None of their prescriptions for "change" will work because they aren't dealing with blank slates here. Maybe conservataives don't articulate their worldview very well at times, but that doesn't mean it isn't the correct one.

Craig is right that the McCain-Palin ticket was unable to articulate a set of economic policies that spoke to the lower middle class, but the mistake that Craig (and David Frum over at his new website) make is to blame Palin for this. It was McCain's campaign and his agenda. Palin's role was to sell it as best she could.The hollowness and disinterest regarding economics of the McCain campaign cannot fairly be pinned on Palin herself. So why isn't McCain pilloried as being an ignoramus?

Which gets to the intesity of the support and hostility that Palin elicits. She is a stand-in for millions of people who are despised and feel themselves to be despised. Obama can flub a question and Biden can humiliate himself seemingly every time he speaks but it is laughed off. Nobody is perfect after all. McCain is terribly inarticulate when it comes to the economy but it doesn't mean that he is hollow man. Palin flubs a couple of interviews and is at worst as good as McCain at selling McCain's own program as McCain himself and this shows that she is unprepared for high office.

People aren't wrong to see the double standards directed at Palin as a form of class hostility. Conservative lower middle class people and rural conservatives were right to see the media treatment of Palin as an expression of the intense and bewildered contempt of upper middle class urban liberals. Compare the media treatment of the Palin's relationship with the Alaska Independence Party (which they did not wait to nail down before running with) and the treatment of Obama's more interesting associations.

Pete, please note that I wrote nothing to "blame Palin" - nothing of the sort. I was simply pointing out the warped conception of "lower-middle-class" held by either Yuval, "those (including especially those on the Right) who reacted badly to Palin on intellectual grounds [and who] understand themselves to be advancing the interests of lower-middle-class families similar to Palin’s" or both. I think it is only a few degrees less ridiculous than McCain's idea that rich starts at (an income of) $5 million. [Note also that he pulled the trick familiar to NLT readers of claiming that he was "just kidding!" after he figured out it didn't go over well]

But I didn't, and don't, blame Palin for being "unable to articulate a set of economic policies that spoke to the lower middle class" - at least a set of policies that spoke to the actual, statistical lower-middle-class. She might have been selected and marketed to appeal to the actual lower-middle-class, and was always quick to flatter them with golly-gee praise as the "real Americans", but what McCain and she advanced in actual policy proposals was designed to "advance the interests of the lower-middle-class" as apparently (and inaccurately) imagined by Yuval. But the actual lower-middle-class who could get past swooning over the feisty hockey mom ("She's a real pitbull!!" hahaha) and who read more than just the fluffy talk of her down-homeyness and maybe bothered to check out a tax policy chart (not produced by, say, FoxNews or AEI) took notice that McCain and Palin had plans that were - relatively - a rather bad deal for them, and ultimately were favoring the rich. Pictures with a dead moose can only market someone so far. And Joe the Plumber/Anecdote doesn't a statistic or election make.

"She is a stand-in for millions of people who are despised and feel themselves to be despised."


This reminds me of Palin's ridiculous definition of an elite as "anybody who thinks they're better than somebody else" This is one of those things that is so maddeningly vague and universal that it applies to everyone and no one simultaneously. PLENTY of liberals and leftists are despised and/or feel themselves to be despised. Some people despise themselves or just imagine that everyone else despises them. Other people genuinely deserve to be despised. If you despise William Ayers (or Michael Moore, or protesters of the Iraq War, or Paul Krugman, etc.) and think you're better than him, does that make you an elitist? This whole lightweight whining about "elitism" is silly and unhelpful to a meaningful or helpful discussion of any kind.

Also, Pete, there's a substantive difference between being married to a member of an organization (Todd Palin was a member of the Independence Party that seeks secession) and openly praising it as governor versus merely serving on a board with someone whose misdeeds occurred when you were 8 years old - having an "association" with someone that has been roundly debunked. (please note that the factcheck.org site was actually referenced by Dick Cheney in a debate as a reliable source!)

Brislecone (sic) Pine, there are intellectuals of the right, left, and center. Your self-serving ad hominem attacks (liberals are actually dumb, and conservatives are not) are completely unconstructive and pointless.

Craig, you are right that lots of people feel despised but that is not the point at issue. Many rural and exurban, economically middle class and working class Americans looked at the media's treatment of Palin and saw it as a repudiation of themselves and their own lives. Compare US Weekly's treatment of the Palin family and their treatment of the Obama family. They chose to slant their coverage to make Palin look like rural white trash and alot of people took it personally because they understood the disperate treatment to be rooted in the media's views of the broader group that they associated Palin with. The double standards seem endless when one thinks of them. Todd Palin's DUI vs. Obama's confessed coke use. They ran with the story of Sarah Palin being a member of the Independence Party but ignored Obama's much stronger ties (though apparently not formal membership) in the social democratic New Party. Does anybody doubt the Ayers thing would have played differently if it had been Palin attending a campaign fundraiser at the home of an unrepentant abortion clinic bomber? It would be Palin around with terrorists to be sure. The coverage of Palin gaffes vs the noncoverage of Biden gaffes.

You and Yuval Levin are right that the rally round Sarah effect that occurs in reaction to Palin's media treatment is by itself an insufficient basis for a successful politics. The McCain campaign tried to use Palin's identity to substitute for a clearly articulated economic (or even social) conservative program. That seems to be because McCain was alot more comfortable talking about Joe the Plumber than about healthcare or the economy or abortion. But the limits of that appeal does not take away from the sources of that appeal. Part of it was her own charisma. She really did give a terrific speech at the convention and had far more charisma than McCain. Part of it was the understanding that the intensity and self serving hypocrisy of the media attacks on Palin was rooted in a contempt for a large fraction of the American public.

What substance was there? I really don't know of any other than a person who obviously worked hard to go from miss congeniality to a governor. I guess when it comes down to it there is little substance to any of the approved candidates for high office. I think Limbaugh said politics was show business for the ugly (one of his few things I found interesting lately). As for the sexually desireable thing, could you see her as the leading lady in a summer blockbuster? Would you go home with her after a few beers? I think there is a big difference. I guess she was desirable as a governor, as sort of a fetish, but the picture of her in the bikini holding the assult rifle did nothing for me.

I think this is all really shallow though, its sort of sad that a women has their looks so much at the forefront of this. I really think they wanted to use sex to sell her and that sort of image took on a life of its own and people don't bother to really know her politics. What is the point of debating the looks though, did anyone call bush a hunk of an mba, or governor mcdreamy when he ran.

Hey, Craig, you are living up to my view of liberal intellectuals...no need to (sic) Bristlecone Pine...this is the name of a real species (among the oldest things on earth). As for your easy dismissal of what I wrote, I'm not surprised that a dumb liberal can't refute an obvious truth. Leftists are unwise people, and are cut from the same fabric as religious zealots -- they both suffer from overweening hubris.


On one thing I agree with you, however. Liberals are just as despised as conservatives...the only difference is that we don't have the national media in our pocket. How many times was Obama-messiah on the cover of Time this year? Frankly, the man is an empty suit, and how supposedly intellectual liberals voted for such a man is bitterly funny (and proves my point). Hang on, kids...the ride is about to start!

"Craig, you are right that lots of people feel despised but that is not the point at issue."

Well, I thought it was. You did say "Which gets to the intesity of the support and hostility that Palin elicits. She is a stand-in for millions of people who are despised and feel themselves to be despised." and that is what I responded to. I would argue that, to the extent that Palin was/is a "stand-in for millions...who are despised and feel...despised" it is millions of right-wing Republicans. It's not like she had some universal appeal among modern lepers. Look, just because I am concerned with the well-being of the lower socioeconomic classes doesn't mean that I glamorize them or put them on some sort of pedestal. Maybe some of these Palin supporters who feel so despised just have some sort of persecution complex or like to make such claims ("They hate us because we're Christians!" - a familiar whine in some of my old stomping grounds) to give themselves some sort of sheen of Christ-like nobility or something. I don't know. Or maybe they're despised by those around them because they're truly despicable? And I can't speak to US Weekly's coverage of Palin, I don't read it (oh no, that makes me elitist I suppose!).

[And "Bristlecone Pine" (?? Are you trying to tell us that you're very, very old?) - the reason I used the (sic) before was because you misspelled Bristlecone. I wrote your handle as you spelled it, but wanted to make it clear that I was just following your lead on that. I'm well aware of the trees. Yes, yes, I'm the one displaying hubris here. Whatever you say. And while you're here, could you, in all of your wisdom, please explain what you meant by "I'm not surprised that a dumb liberal can't refute an obvious truth." If it's an obvious truth, who COULD refute it? A smart liberal? A dumb conservative? If it's refutable, then why are you calling it an obvious truth? As for the "ride about to start", I know people who have lost their homes, their jobs, AND their son (in Iraq), and all of these things happened months or even years before Obama won the election. I think we've already been on "the ride" for some time.]

Craig, if you feel that the double standards that Palin elicited from liberal leaning (and even some formally apolitical) media outlets was not in part an expression of class/social bigotry, you are entitled to your opinion. I gave you may examples above. TAs for US Weekly: Imagine an US Weekly cover with a picture of Obama and the caption reading "COCAINE, POLYGAMY, TERRORISTS, AND LIES: THE BARACK OBAMA STORY" and you'll get the idea of the message that the cover what trying to get across (not the inside story). It was of course just one example, though an especially egregious one from a source not usually focused on partisanship nor overtly ideological. As Yuval Levin pointed out, the passionate support that Palin got wasn't based on her ideology exactly or her governing style. She had never been a culture warrior when McCain picked her. It was a defensive reaction to the personal and self serving attacks on Palin and her family that preceded even her convention speech. The McCain tried to exploit that reaction in order to substitute for a focued message on domestic policy and came to grief as it deserved to.

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