Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Populism and Bullshit

Noting that Sarah Palin's lack of qualifications is not being lost in the din of repetitions of the words "maverick" and "reform" and "Teddy Roosevelt," Ross Douthat sniffs:

[I]f the GOP made its working-class populism more explicit, adding economic as well as socio-cultural elements, and found standard-bearers who embody the background and aspirations of the Sam's Club demographic more completely than a son of privilege like George W. Bush, the results would lend themselves to even greater hysteria, condescension and demonization than the Republican Party's current incarnation.

I think the coverage of Sarah Palin to date - by colleagues I used to respect and publications I normally admire - at least partially vindicates this theory about the reception that would greet the kind of GOP I'd like to see.
Oh boo fucking hoo. How confused is this? First, it seems to imply that Sarah Palin has received a poor reception because she has come out with a fighting brand of populist economics. What's the basis for that claim? She entered the national spotlight long enough to inform voters that she possesses the same kinds of genitals as Hillary Clinton before promptly lying about her support for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere." The giggling at her candidacy began immediately -- because she seemed to have nothing to offer apart from Christianist convictions, not because she groused about the economically downtrodden -- whereupon the McCain campaign shunted her to a hidey-hole away from the cameras, presumably to the same place where Dick Cheney has been keeping himself.

Second, when American politicians engage in economics-based populism (rising inequality, declining wages, the offshoring of jobs, etc.), it's the right that responds with "hysteria, condescension and demonization;" right wing populism in the USA exists to divert people from economics. Right wingers ritually cry "class war" or "protectionism," if not "socialism," whenever economic injustices and disparities are invoked in political campaigns. The Chamber of Commerce crowd that finances the Wide Stance party throws forth "sons of privilege" like George W. Bush and John McCain and promotes them as populists on the basis of poor speaking skills, southern accents, dumbass warmongering, and similar cultural markers. Whether or not she shops at Sam's Club (or needs to based on her income), Sarah Palin fits that same mold: she is, we were told upon her introduction, a "hockey mom" who spends a lot of time at church.

In support of his Palin-as-Robin-Hood fancy, Douthat favorably cites a column on Slate.com: yes, it really did take two people, Adriaan Lanni and Wesley Kelman, to type this:
Palin embodies a notion that Republicans can create a society like Alaska—where the culture has a heavy working-class influence, state taxes are nonexistent, economic prospects are good for people regardless of formal education, and bricklayers can make the same money as urban lawyers (and have more fun in their spare time) ... The rub, of course, is that however genuine it may be, Palin's family life may not be possible outside Alaska. ... So maybe the lesson is that, if you find Sarah Palin's blue-collar lifestyle enviable, you shouldn't necessarily vote for her—but you may want to consider moving to Alaska.
In plain terms: the rub is that it won't work. The numbers don't add up; in the actual world in which the vast majority of Americans exist, economic prospects are not good for people regardless of formal education, state-level taxes do exist, and bricklayers do not make as much as lawyers. People who divine an enviable "blue-collar lifestyle" in Sarah Palin and seek to bring it about by voting for McCain-Palin are properly labeled suckers. The GOP dies the day it can no longer mass-produce precisely that sort of sucker, hence its fraudulent brand of culture-based populism.

If Republicans embraced authentic, economics-based populism, they'd no longer be Republicans. Douthat is correct to say this would not be received favorably among "colleagues [he] used to respect and publications [he] normally admires," but he's fundamentally deluded on the underlying realities and politics.

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