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 Palinâ€™s book is negligible. Her call for â€œcommonsense conservatismâ€ is a string of clichÃ©s. 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.