Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There were no houses available in Tuscany

David Brooks on why the "liberal elite" despises Sarah Palin:

"People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart* think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany."

My last post, which I'm going to repost in part, because I think it's relevant, and because, this being my blog, I can do this if I feel like it:

"I don't believe anyone's asking that Sarah Palin identify all the lettuces available at the Union Square Greenmarket, or to reflect on how accurately "Gossip Girl" depicts the lives of Manhattan private-school juniors. What's off-putting is the deification of ignorance, ignorance of material that would be central to her job if elected. It's not so much that she hasn't met foreign heads of state as that she lacks the sort of passionate knowledge of who those leaders are that you'll find among high school debaters across the country."

While you can always dig up some especially vulgar Democrat who thinks the problem with Palin is that she's never played tennis at the club in Connecticut with Muffy and the gang, or that she was never editor of the Harvard Crimson, or a sound byte from a gender-studies professor who should maybe spend a bit of time amongst people who are not in gender-studies before formulating sound bytes for the nationwide press... the fact is that if you're assessing overall what liberals mind (and I feel I'm being addressed, even though I don't tend to consider myself a liberal), it's the same thing as what Brooks and the sensible conservatives he mentions object to: Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president. She was picked because what she symbolizes and how she looks would 'excite the base,' but the stakes in this election are too high to intentionally elect a figurehead or an unknown.

An additional problem for some, on the left and right, is the fear that populism can, as it tends to do, switch from a good-faith effort to make life better for the bulk of Americans into an all-out denunciation of anyone suspected of not putting America first, from "elites" (Jews, gays, anyone who's been to college) to "community organizers" (blacks) to "cosmopolitans" (gays), and so on. Some are already hearing this sort of coded language. Others think those who hear something other than the candidate's exact words are paranoid. So be it, but again, consider the initial question, that of qualification, knowledge, or if you'd prefer, experience.

*I will have a post later, though maybe not later today, about what it means to have "never been in a Walmart," and why that's a flawed way to judge elitism. But more on that another time.


Anonymous said...

What if someone's idea of foreign travel includes a first-time trip to Walmart, or its equivalent in a foreign country? Wouldn't that show a desire to learn about the world? There's a huge different between a trophy vacation in Tuscany and a passport-fueled exploration of what life is like in the places you read about in books or see on the news. I realize it's elitest to draw attention to the fact that Palin has trouble reading books.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's elitist to say anything negative about Sarah Palin. Or so the McCain camp would like us to believe. I give up.

Andrew Stevens said...

She was picked because what she symbolizes and how she looks would 'excite the base,' but the stakes in this election are too high to intentionally elect a figurehead or an unknown.

What amuses me is how what many people are saying about the Republicans' number two choice (all of which I agree with, by the way) can so easily be said about the Democrats' number one choice. Barack Obama's principal accomplishment is giving a really good speech four years ago.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Barack Obama's principal accomplishment is giving a really good speech four years ago."

Do you really think this?

Anonymous said...

Withywindle: At this point, the most difficult thing Obama has accomplished is to win the nomination for the presidency. But as for doing something for the country at large--bit-playerdom in Illinois and Federal legislation isn't overwhelmingly impressive.

Is it really so difficult to say that both Palin and Obama are unready to be president, period? Debating comparative insufficiencies doesn't really change their absolute insufficiences.

The question, I suppose, is what would you think of Sarah Palin if she were running for president in 2016, with the exact same set of beliefs and character, but with--say--two terms of governor of Alaska behind, and two years running for president, 2014-2016. Is it the perfect storm of her beliefs, her cheerleaders, and her lack of experience that bugs you? Or would the existence of experience on her part take away the sting of Palinitude?

Unknown said...


I'm not sure that I follow your point about populism. Who are you saying is a populist? Palin? Obama? Their respective critics?

What you describe as populism seems like racial descrimination. Perhaps I am not reading it correctly.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Withywindle: I left out the really obvious reason why those on the left--or anyone pro-choice, or anyone against the tide of merging church and state--might object to Palin. I object for those reasons as well--her inexperience and her populism are also problematic. That help?

Glenn: All presidential campaigns are by definition at least a bit populist. But there are degrees. Populism (and I do not claim to have the last and final definition of the term) can mean many things, but what I'm getting at is a mix of anti-intellectualism and xenophobia, a movement that stands up against the very elite and the very poor, only to end up glorifying those who come closest to meeting some absolute 'normal American' ideal. In that sense populism is both racism and against rich whites. I know there is a more articulate way of explaining this, but for now, that's the official WWPD word on the matter.

Andrew Stevens said...

What would you say Barack Obama's principal accomplishment is then? I'd be more than happy to give him credit for his achievements if somebody could tell me what they are (aside from winning the nomination, which I agree isn't nothing).

In 2004, Obama said:

"You know, I am a believer in knowing what you are doing when you apply for a job, and I think that if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now there are some people that might be comfortable doing that, but I am not one of those people."

I fully believe that Obama began his campaign expecting to lose and ran in order to raise his national exposure for next time and possibly secure a VP slot this time. By a set of weird circumstances (partly his own charisma), he ended up winning instead. I'd be perfectly happy with an Obama candidacy in 2016; I might even vote for him, especially if I had some sort of track record which gave me an idea of what he actually believed and valued (rather than what he says he believes and values). But looking at an Obama/Biden ticket in 2008, it's impossible not to think that the ticket should be reversed (similar to the 2000 Bush/Cheney ticket). We've been down this path before with G.W. Bush and with Carter. Electing a President with little experience has not historically been a very good idea, as you correctly point out. What is surprising is how many people have been hypnotized into thinking Obama's paper-thin resume is sufficient experience.