Misled by Palin?

Sarah Palin has been a political spectacle ever since her unlikely selection as John McCain’s running mate in August 2008. She is especially frightening for political liberals, given how she espouses causes that are anathema to them, and does so in such a maddening manner. Rather than provide any kind of intellectual justification for her views, she seems to assert them on the basis of simple slogans and a superficial world view. Slate magazine has a regular feature called ‘Palinisms’ where they mock her statements, accompanied by a ‘Grand Unified Theory’ to explain them. The Economist highlighted the superficial nature of her political views:

On policy, Mrs Palin’s book is negligible. Her call for “commonsense conservatism” is a string of clichés. She favours free markets and a robust defence, but other than that she offers few specifics about how she would grapple with the big problems America actually faces. She sometimes says things that make no sense: whatever its flaws, cap-and-trade is not a Ponzi scheme.

Certainly, Sarah Palin does not behave like a woman who wants her views to be evaluated on the basis of logic and evidence. At the same time, I wonder whether her opponents have misunderstood her in a way that is harmful for the quality of overall political discourse. Specifically, if people on the political left have been too quick to assume that she is representative of the positions and styles of their political opponents.

If Palin helps to make those on the right a caricature to those on the left, the effect is to stifle real political conversation. She may be partly to blame for that effect, but I think those being misled have some responsibility as well. It is easy and psychologically satisfying to pick out the craziest person in a camp you oppose, and then hold them up as an example of what people in that camp are like. While you may be justified in pointing out that one person’s flaws, you may well be guilty of faulty extrapolation for assuming them to be properties of the group at large.

It also seems plausible that there are people on the political left who have a similar effect on moderate conservatives – people who are very outspoken, but who do not provide a convincing justification for their views. If such people make liberals into caricatures in conservative minds, the effect is also to reduce the calibre of political debate.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

11 thoughts on “Misled by Palin?”

  1. Interestingly, she also publicly ignores the values she supposedly supports when it comes to criticism

    Apart from the deplorable fail on respect for free speech, clear fail to act consistently with support for the right to bear arms and respect for inviolability of owner’s rights over their land.

    Her incessant pursuit of a public career has led to exasperation in the GOP about her endorsement of candidates she barely knows http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/11/georgia-gop-congressman-i_n_678880.html

  2. She’s very astute in attracting people who don’t want intellectual leadership, who want a leader ‘just like us’ (or less) that they needn’t look up to – just are confident will follow their preferred knee-jerk response pattern (which, along with barefaced cronyism, is a great way to run a country).

    Clear example of the primary importance of media-playing skills over integrity, intelligence and real governance ability. I know she ran Alaska but am not sure how far the state’s successes while she was running it are attributable to her, transferable to areas she is less familiar with*, or lasting.
    *though she’s obviously frantically expanding her network of cronies.

  3. Sarah Palin is attractive to more people than would admit it. It is her unapologetic and unwavering style that appeals to people who feel lost in the world of politics. To me, she seems like one of those charismatic leaders like Qadafi, who knows very little about the world and cares even less about his people, but who can makes them feel that he is one of them and that he is not afraid to challenge the status quo. As a colorful character, Palin also provides entertainment in a way that the royals do in England.

  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leah-anthony-libresco/the-left-is-wrong-about-w_b_678585.html
    ‘So far, it seems impossible for Sarah Palin to err badly enough to upset her base. And she’s certainly been thorough in her experimentation.’

    Interesting to see the ‘unreality-based community’ reference – 1. I like the coinage and 2. I hadn’t heard of the coinage it derives from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality-based_community and which (together with ‘unreality-based’ version) describes the fault lines of the relevant ideological gulfs you’re highlighting very neatly.

  5. Its a shame there aren’t alternatives without clear value judgement giving one version primacy as they’re obviously unuseable for discussions between adherents of different schools.

    If the viewpoints can’t find common agreement on the terms of debate, actual debate is impossible.

  6. None of the comments above really seem to respond to my main point, which is that (justified) complaints about Palin’s style and policies may help deepen the partisan divide, by encouraging those on the left to think right-wingers are similar to her.

  7. “There is a further problem with Congress, a big one. The country’s anti-Washington mood is so strong—and the need to constantly raise money and tend fences for the next election so urgent—that <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/09/broken-washington-201009?printable=true&currentPage=allhardly anyone in Congress knows anyone else. Fifty years ago, Congress met for only about nine months a year. During those months, though, the spouses and children of most members lived full-time in Washington. Members formed not just a legislature but something very like a club, with bipartisan twilight softball games on the Capitol grounds, weekend cocktail parties in one another’s houses, and long end-of-session car-pool trips back to their home states. Now Congress meets year-round, but sometimes for only three days a week. Families and children stay back home. When his Republicans took over Congress, in 1994, Newt Gingrich urged the newly elected members not to move their families to Washington but to keep them at home in their districts and commute, lest they become polluted by the capital’s cozy culture. Young Turk members sleep on their office couches and barely know the colleagues in their own caucuses, much less those on the other side of the aisle. I heard a vivid example of the legacy of Gingrich’s advice this spring. A fellow parent at our children’s school is chief of staff to a Republican congressman from the Sunbelt. The congressman did not move his family here, and sleeps in his office in the Cannon House Office Building. Except for his neighbors on either side of his own office, and the Republican members of his home-state delegation, he doesn’t really know or socialize with any other members. He has been in Congress for eight years.”

  8. According to CNN, 41% of Republicans polled think that Obama was either definitely or probably born in another country.

    You have to be pretty dumb to ignore the boatloads of evidence that show Obama was actually born in Hawaii. So, these particular statistics show that 41% of Republicans are pretty dumb. To get to the point, it’s not hard to encourage “those on the left” to think that right wingers are similar to her, insofar as she is dumb and a lot of them actually are too.

  9. “The viral communities of the Internet make outright falsehoods nearly impossible to extinguish. Was Obama born in Kenya? Of course not, and his campaign put his “certification of live birth,” from Hawaii, confirmed as authentic by the state’s registrar of vital statistics, up on the Internet for all to see. And yet a recent New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that 20 percent of Americans believe Obama was born in another country, and that another quarter aren’t sure he was American-born. The mainstream media have published lengthy reports that, by any objective standard, should have thoroughly refuted the idea that Obama is a Muslim, or was educated in a madrassa, or favors the creation of “death panels” to ration end-of-life care. It doesn’t matter. A national Harris poll this spring found that 57 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is in fact a Muslim (and, for good measure, 38 percent believe he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 24 percent believe that Obama actually “may be the anti-Christ”). Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says. Today, no single media figure or outlet has that power to end debate, and in pursuit of “objectivity,” most honest news outlets draw the line at saying flatly that something or other is untrue, even when it plainly is.”

  10. Pingback: The Young Turks

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