I am not exactly a grizzled veteran as a teacher, but I do have a few years under my belt at this point. While I am not yet as good at it as I need to be, I'm beyond the point of having trainwreck moments in the classroom. It's rare that I am at a loss for words or without a clear plan of what to cover that day. Today that happened, although the story isn't as entertaining as you might hope.

In my campaigns class we are talking about positioning the candidate – creating a brand and carving out a niche relative to the other candidates. We discussed this using the 2012 GOP field as examples. You know, Mitt Romney is the successful businessman with enough leadership skills to win elections in Massachusetts. Tim Pawlenty is a non-Mormon, less blow dried Romney. Huckabee is the flag-bearer for evangelical Christians. Haley Barbour is the good ol' boy party insider. Ron Paul is the libertarian. You get the idea.

Then we got to Sarah Palin.

No one was sure what to say about which issue Palin "owns" or the niche she carved out. Someone half-jokingly said "woman." When no one put forward a serious answer it fell to me to make the point. And suddenly I realized that I have absolutely no idea how to explain what Sarah Palin stands for…at least not in a classroom setting. What issue does she have any mastery over? What issue does she even talk about consistently, even if not well? Where is she located in ideological space? How can we even vaguely describe what she stands for?

This stuck with me for some time after class. Is it the social issues? Lots of Republican politicians have identical positions or stronger. She certainly has next to no grasp of foreign or economic policy. Yet we have to admit that she has a loyal following even if the mainstream GOP is waking up to the reality that she's poison. What are Palin and the Palin Crowd really about? We all intuitively understand it, but it's pretty difficult to put into words.

I came up with two answers, neither entirely satisfactory.

First, if Barack Obama says the sky is blue, she says it's green. Palin is about complete and consistent opposition to all things Obama. She loudly leads the charge against the dark-skinned secret Muslim usurper and underminer of the Constitution. She represents Real 'Mericans who know what a Real 'Merican looks like, and Barry Obama ain't it.

Second, and tied to the first point, Palin is essentially the American equivalent of European and Asian ultra-nationalist movements. Palin is about the politics of blood, of national identity. Sarah Palin isn't about a policy or an ideology; she is about American exceptionalism and restoring Real America to its rightful place in the world (and Real Americans to their rightful place in America, of course). To support Palin is to demand that the American social order of the 1950s (or earlier) be restored, that white folk with no fancy book-learnin' be placed once again on the altar and worshipped for their salt-of-the-Earthiness. A vote for Palin is a vote to return to the Disneyland, Leave It to Beaver fantasy of an idealized white Christian America of years past – mowed lawns, picket fences, two Ford freedom, and so on. This is to be Ours, as We are Americans and You are not.

Now if I can only think of a neutral classroom-appropriate way of describing Palinism as an American spin on the platform of your average Central Asian nationalist party. But honestly, what else is it but an affirmation that We are the chosen people and all would be righted if only our society was structured around that fact?

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82 Responses to “AMERICA: WOOOOOO!!”

  1. ladiesbane Says:

    bb, no! I too missed this thread, or I would have commented sooner. Sarah Palin's trades so heavily on her physical attractiveness as a female, and has so little else to offer, that it seems inexcusable that she was offered a chance at the Vice Presidency. She doesn't fill Dan Quayle's shoes, much less Aaron Burr's. Can you argue that her scholarship, experience, activism, oratory, military service, or any other track record merit this invitation? If being a heartfelt conservative and anti-feminist were all it takes, they would have asked the very bright and sharp Phyllis Schlafly (who was also an early Palin bandwagoneer, incidentally, as well as a divorced woman who supports criminalizing divorce, and in many other ways is a perfect fit for the new right wing hypocrites.)

    Palin was vaunted for the same reason that Bobby Jindal and Michael Steele were: the GOP wanted to expand the brand. As a brand representative and public figure, Sarah Palin is a hollow mockery. The new GOP likes their women pretty and not too bright. So NoName's zeugma, though vulgar, was valid; defending rapists by a null argument ("she asked for it") is not. Plus, what's with the all-caps? Being a feminist doesn't give me bad vision, sir.

  2. Major Kong Says:

    With a lot of hard work and more than a little luck she might just make a passable night manager at a Denny's somewhere.

    Not day manager, mind you. She's not ready for the big-time just yet.

  3. Bob Says:

    @bb: "Not one of you LIBERAL FEMINISTS called out NoName's Maher-like anti-woman slur on Ms. Palin.
    Isn't that speshul?"
    Just as I find it absurd when conservatives demand every Muslim on the planet weigh in every single time any Muslim anywhere does or says something violent, sexist, etc. I really don't feel it my responsibility to call out every numbskull on the left. I had enough confidence in the readers of this post to decide for themselves that such language was wrong that I saw no reason to pound the point home. But you feel it important to police the comments for us as we are apparently too simple-minded to figure such out for ourselves. Isn't that speshul?
    @"Fair and Balanced" Dave: "…and the top Federal income tax rate was around 90 percent?" The top marginal tax rate was 91%. No one paid 91% of their income to the federal government.

  4. Liberal by the grace of Darwin Says:

    You can always tell when bb is trolling: He switches to that annoying disingenuous hayseed horseshit SOUTHERN CRACKER good ol' boy speak — which obviously (to me) takes a fair amount of intellect to type up so perfectly and typo-free. "But iz jest a-jarshin' ye! Hee haw!" *played off by banjo*

    When he switches back to educated grammar, shit got real.

    You're welcome.

  5. Ellie Says:

    I think that a lot of the comments are touching on what Palin is "about", but missing the most important part of what's going on.

    Palin is all about taking REAL victimhood and justified anger of the white working poor, and RE-DIRECTING it on to the approved targets.

    Those people the comments here are calling "white trash"? By and large, they ARE victims. They're victims of job outsourcing, union-busting, bad education, ignorance, soulless corporatism, miserable wage-slavery, dishonest banks, predatory lenders, under-regulation of business, and over-taxation compared to what they actually get for their taxes. Problem is, they lack – and pretty much have ALWAYS lacked – the education and the intellectual skill to figure out the real reasons why their lives suck so bad.

    Palin – like so many other blow-hards of the right – tap into the existing misery, anger, and ignorance, encourage it, and REDIRECT IT AT THE WRONG TARGETS. The problem isn't out-sourcing corporations, low wages, or unregulated banks – it's unions! Why should "lazy", "spoiled" union members have good jobs, when you're suffering in a crummy no-heath-chare job and tons of debt? Look over there – blame them! The enemy isn't the rich, its the blacks/immigrants/homosexuals/liberals who aren't "real Americans" like you – look! Over there! Blame the people who don't look like you (and please ignore the fact that you might have similar economic predicaments to those people even though they look and talk funny)! The problem isn't that you get nothing for your tax money or that the rich pay nothing – the real problem is that your money is "stolen" by big-city liberals – blame the left! The problem isn't that our culture has devolved into soulless consumerism – the problem is a lack of sufficient flag-waving jingoism! The problem isn't that America's mainstream religions are failing to provide relevant, meaningful spiritual guidance – the problem is homosex and abortion! The fact that you're falling behind despite two wage earners in the workforce has nothing to do with the economy or the lack of health care or child care – the problem is feminism! So on and so forth.

    Palin is "about" manipulating a key component of the Republican voter base, in the same way that those people have been manipulated for ages and ages. She is not unique. She gussies up the message with folksy-talk and a pretty new face, but it's the same old playbook the right's been using for decades. (In fact, it's essentially the same damn thing Reagan did, except that several decades ago it worked on a much bigger segment of the population, and the production values were higher.)

    What actually surprises me is that smart people on the left think Palin is "about" something new or special, when she's nothing but the same old tactics in a sexy new package.

  6. bb in GA Says:

    The "Muslims must denounce argument" is bogus because I let enough time pass in cyberspace, that a least a notice from your side should have shown up.

    Sarah, I'll cop to really being dumb sometimes rather than playing dumb.

    Are you and ladiesbane saying that you believe that since Ms. Palin trades on her attractiveness consciously that somehow attenuates the effect of using vile and degrading terms for her rather than dealing with specifics she might offer?

    If I said something really mean and sexually degrading about some Lefty woman, say Ms. Garafalo, for any reason, could I ever justify it?

    I think not.

    I think you are just covering for your boy NoName with the mildness of your rebuke. Same for NOW's comment on Maher.

    Shucks, I Love you too, Lib_BY_ Grace


  7. johnsmith1882 Says:

    I agree with every word of your post, but still feels as though you haven't hit the nail squarely on the head. What you describe, the obfuscation and fear, are the tactics of American conservatism as a whole, not just Palin. That is all of what conservatism has to offer, without fear and obfuscation, it's even emptier than the hollowed-out shell of an ideology it currently is. Your example of redirecting middle-class anger at the wrong targets is the ultimate example of conservative tactics, fear and obfuscation welded together and utilized to the fullest measure.

    The question though, is, what does Palin represent? After reading your post and thinking on it a little longer, I think that she represents the "we're not even pretending anymore that this isn't about racism, and fear, and demagoguery, all the vile shit we've been up to for the last forty years, behind the thin facade of 'fiscal responsibility and small government'. We're not even gonna pretend anymore that this isn't what we're really up to, what we really stand for." That's what Palin represents; modern conservatism not even bothering to pretend anymore that it isn't lying to your face, picking your pocket, sending your kid to fight some sand-niggers, pushing old ladies into traffic, kicking your dog, and cutting the middle class's throat. No, it's nothing new, but they were never this openly brazen about it.

  8. jwm Says:

    Wow, seriously? She is the working class, everyman outsider who approaches Washington with a common-sensical 'who do they think they're foolin?' attitude. How is that hard?

  9. Middle Seaman Says:

    Palin is an extreme and simplistic right winger who hates and despises democrats (Obama included) and all their goals and values. She sees business as the most important component of the country and fully identifies with all their values and needs. She is also a flame thrower.

  10. BillCinSD Says:

    I'm going with New Age Horatio Alger hero — Ragged Dan for the 21st Century.

  11. Sarah Says:

    Well bb, I suppose I'm saying that since Palin actively denounces the activities of feminists and joins in that activity with *your* boy Limbaugh (who was quoted as saying that feminism is about ugly women participating in society), then she shouldn't expect a lot of enthusiasm from feminists in denouncing the sexism which is directed at her. She's actively trying to take us back to pre-1950, fer chrissakes, and possibly to pre-1920 or even pre-1848 (the time period when sexism and derogatory comments directed at women were par for the course), and in doing so unraveling the sweat, blood and tears of generations of women who have fought for the right to vote, get college educations, work outside the home, and be treated like human beings. Feminists, like any other group, have limits on their resources of time, money, and patience, and given the choice between coming to the defense of someone like Palin (or Bachmann, or Malkin) who would then turn around and bite me for my trouble, or picking low-hanging fruit like the recent attempts in *your* state to criminalize miscarriages (which is so fucking stupid I can't even articulate), I'm going after the low-hanging fruit, especially considering that it's more relevant to me.

    I assume you are talking about Bill Maher. I have no idea what NOW did or did not say about him, and since I am not a member of NOW I doubt they would care what I thought about their statements one way or the other. I am aware that he is a sexist douchebag, but his non-sexist related content is awesome enough that I can compartmentalize and overlook his douchebaggery. What, you think I'm going to call for HBO to get rid of him and sign Limbaugh, Hannity or Beck instead? We can't always have things exactly the way we want, although it's a model we should be striving for, and in Maher's case I think we have to take what we can get. I don't get HBO anymore, though, so if he said something really egregious recently and NOW blew it off, then it would probably be up to their dues-paying members to say something to them about it.

    I don't know NoName (contrary to what you seem to think, liberals don't all know each other) and I can't even say for sure what his ideological leanings are, but I think he was just articulating what the GOP leadership thought about Sarah Palin when she was picked for VP (even if they weren't willing to say it out loud or use the c-word if they did). So, if the GOP leadership brought her in to bring some T&A to the 2008 campaign, why on earth would you object to a liberal who is simply saying that out loud (even if he did not have to be quite so vulgar about it)? The whole point of this post and this discussion is that she does not *have* any "specifics" that she "might offer" beyond window-dressing.

  12. Noskilz Says:

    How about just going with she's a good example of someone who traffics entirely on the strength of attitude – the nth generation of style over substance campaigning. It works – she has devoted fans, got to be the govenor of Alaska and McCain's running mate – but between the fact there doesn't seem to be much of anything underneath the posturing and the concerns of the particular fanbase she's playing to, the breadth and depth of such a candidate's support among the general public is rather limited.

    If someone in class really wants to try to run with the idea that there is much more to her than that, it's likely to be a very short trip, and you won't even have to be mean or snarky about it.

    I'm not sure what a good term for such a political figure would be – niche fantasist? Novelty Act Candidate?

  13. The Fash-est Says:

    Now if I can only think of a neutral classroom-appropriate way of describing Palinism as an American spin on the platform of your average Central Asian nationalist party.
    Heh. What's that word for ultra-nationalist authoritarian conservative movements?

  14. mother earth Says:

    many, many, good thought provoking comments here. I think @Ellie comments resonate the most with me. Or maybe I just think Palin is the modern day version of the snake oil salesman. They've been around for a long, long time and it's the same old spin, what I've got will cure all, buy it here. Sarah is just selling that a vote for her will cure America and return us to those glorious and grand good old days.

  15. bb in GA Says:


    Thank you very much for taking your time to fill out your position. Time is a precious commodity.

    The reference to NoName as "your boy" was a rhetorical device we learned at troll school. I wasn't being literal.

    I'm not asking you to do any research, but do you have any handy quotes from the 2008 Repug high ups that say something like

    "We picked Ms Palin cuz she has a (sexual appurtenance) that just won't quit!"


    are you just doing that ol' psych thing – projecting what you think the Resluglican leaders thought/think/thank?

    In the interest of accurate quotation from someone in your reciprocal manner designated as "my boy":

    From The Undeniable Truths of Life (via google) by Rush Limbaugh:

    "24. Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society."


  16. jjack Says:

    When Sarah Palin ran for Governor of Alaska her niche was exactly what you point out: not having an ideology. She was going to use "common sense". People ate it up and she used it to her advantage. On a national stage she is using it to her disadvantage by trying to pretend she has an ideology (which would require her to know a thing or two about…anything) and failing miserably.

  17. Sharkbabe Says:

    She's a wankdoll for the Fox/viagra crowd. That's it.

  18. Ruthie Says:

    "And suddenly I realized that I have absolutely no idea how to explain what Sarah Palin stands for . . . . What issue does she have any mastery over? What issue does she even talk about consistently, even if not well? Where is she located in ideological space? How can we even vaguely describe what she stands for?"

    Sarah Palin is about WINNING! The desperate, winning-at-all-costs sort of victory that appeals to people who dream of the odds favoring them, and who rationalize their purchase of Lotto tickets as an "investment." Palin's supporters identify with her dysfunctional domesticity because they too are not perfect. In a world of TV soundbites between snacks, Palin's views expressed in terms of horrifying cliches and word-salad run-ons resonates. In short, Palin is the Charlie Sheen of politics: Even if you can't stand her, you don't want to change channels because you might miss the inevitable train wreck.

  19. Ellie Says:


    "I think that she represents the "we're not even pretending anymore that this isn't about racism, and fear, and demagoguery, all the vile shit we've been up to for the last forty years, behind the thin facade of 'fiscal responsibility and small government'. "

    Putting together your comment with what I was trying to get at, let me rephrase it this way:

    The power-brokers on the right have spent decades doing what I described – i.e., victimizing the poor (first) and then the middle class (next in line), while doing their damdest to convince one group of victims (the straight white Christian ones) that the bad effects of right-wing policies were the fault of the other (non-white, non-Christian, and/or gay) victims. They did it through a combo of tapping into and encouraging pre-existing prejudices, while also seeding new & improved hatreds. After decades of this, they have a base tat consists, in part, of poor, straight, Christian white people who are not ENRAGED. They're enraged at all the wrong targets, but that's the point. And now there is a lot of seething rage out there – what to do with it?

    Palin taps into that angry demographic by being "one of them", and being the epitome everything that the stereotypes of the "bad" people aren't – she's NOT what they've all been taught to hate and revile – she's the "opposite" of the enemy, the embodiment of the "good". [Black and brown people are lazy; she's white and "hard-working." Feminists are ugly and childless; she's pretty and has a big family. Non-Christians are sinful; she's a good Christian with "typical" family problems that she solves in the "right" ways (e.g., preggo daughter has baby, not birth control or abortion), unlike those evil sexually-deviant homos and baby-killers. "Elite liberals" are eggheads who talk in fancy intellectual language that's hard to understand, teach liberal indoctrination in schools, and think they know more than "ordinary" people because they read a bunch of irrelevant books (the US has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism); she's poorly educated and "plain talking", with "common sense", and hasn't been "corrupted" by effete intellectualism or too much useless book-learning. Union members are foreign and socialist; she's an all-American frontierswoman who believes in entrepreneurship and "personal reasonability", not "government handouts". Etc.]

    In sum – she's one of them, and she's mad too!

    But who exactly "one of them" is, and what they're all so mad about, has been CAREFULLY ORCHESTRATED. Working-class white Americans have been systematically TAUGHT how to think of themselves, and how to define the other. They've been TAUGHT how, and who, to hate. (Yes, there were pre-exiting identities and prejudices – but it's all been manipulated and the worst parts nurtured and magnified, ON PURPOSE.)

    Palin is this: the embodiment of the identity they've been taught to have, and the opposite of the "other" they've been taught to hate.

    That identity is, as you pointed out, an ugly one, created for ugly purposes, and it no longer needs to be hidden.

  20. Ellie Says:

    oops – there's an extra "not" before "ENRAGED" in my last post!

  21. Andrew Says:

    What's non-neutral about describing Palin as an ultra-nationalist and white Christian supremacist?

  22. cleter Says:

    Well, what did George Wallace stand for? She's basically Hot George Wallace.

  23. Senescent Says:

    She's the candidate of national identity.

  24. RMGHicks Says:

    Lots of great comments here. It is well nigh impossible to determine what someone like Palin stands for. Attempting to plumb the depths of her mind leaves one looking into an endless empty void.

  25. My Says:

    I hate Sarah Palin. Think about what it takes to truly hate a person you have never even met, who has never done anything specifically to you personally or otherwise.

    I hate her because: she is vapid; she has no dignity; she works to dissolve the dignity of others; she is vacuous; she is a tool, for the right, for the fascists, for the plutarchists, for the nuttiest of the wingnuts, for herself, for anybody with some bucks or an easy question; she is proudly ignorant; she is a phony; she is famous for being famous a la politics just as so many others are a la music/TV/etc; she doesn't even truly care, such that she would be happy doing anything that got her similar rewards; she's a liar; she does not give a shit about her fellow man/woman/American citizens, to a man/woman/American citizen; she is a willful hypocrite; she is a totem for all these things and more to people who are too lazy to wake up.

    Fuck Sarah Palin.

  26. My Says:

    Oh, and to answer Ed's situation: Why the fuck, after all the time and effort you've put into getting as far as you have, would you even discuss her? Why waste the time? Why give credence to something so….so distractingly useless? Shit, talk about what Luntz does to help manipulate people's emotions, talk about media consolidation, but don't waste your students time talking about Snooki effing Palin…

  27. My Says:


  28. petester Says:

    Dunno if you were looking for a serious answer here. Can't say I bothered to read the bile stream the Internet has probably produced here, but I think I have a good answer for you.

    America is used to believing that we are special. That we rose up from tyrannical rule and created something that has shined. We are used to spreading our own culture and generally being the best, or at least the pushiest. Maybe that's not true, but it's at least how people lived in the past.

    But now China and India are on the scene and growing fast. We can't say for sure what America's future is because we haven't invented it yet. But we know that we are surrounded by crap we know we can't control. Govenrment, Big Buisness, Terrorism. Stuff that could very likely derail that future landing us firmly in the land of "meh".

    So what Sarah Palin is about is stroking the fears of mediocrity. She's about reaction. She doesn't really have a niche other than, "I don't like that". Whether it's Obama or otherwise.

  29. labradog Says:

    Calling Palin a "vagina" is the most metaphorically accurate and appropriate political descriptor.

    Some may refer to a valuable assistant as a "right hand man". This isn't a circuitous compliment to our prehensile extremity – it is a metaphor for a dominant operative.

    Well, Palin came to prominence through a crude political calculation that the McCain campaign needed "a woman". Not "a woman who is…", or a "woman who has done…" or "a woman who can…".

    Palin's sole qualification for her nomination was the physical certainty of her gender. The certainty that she did, indeed, possess a vagina. A vagina that guaranteed that she is, legally and is perceived by the public, as a woman. McCain and the GOP needed nothing more from her. She provided the actual and metaphorical vagina that was needed. No further elaboration as a human was relevant

    McCain/Palin'08 was more friendly to the ear and eye than "McCain/somebodywithavagina'08".

  30. g Says:

    I strongly disagree with those who call Palin a cunt, or who justify calling her one. It's simply inappropriate.

    She completely lacks the requisite warmth and depth.