D.C. Elites: Middle America Loves Palin’s Folksiness!

Reconciling the attitudes of the wise Few and the uneducated Masses — the elites and common folk — has been a point of contention throughout American political history. In the early days, John Adams was famously wary of an overly democratic democracy, whereas Thomas Paine championed every man’s voice.

This issue has once again come to the fore with McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential candidate. Political commentators mostly agree that McCain chose Palin not because of her qualifications to be VP or President, but rather to shore up the conservative base and reinforce ties with “everyday” Americans. Palin, a hockey mom and evangelical Christian with no fancy degrees, is uniquely suited for this role.

To this end, folksiness underlies all of Palin’s rhetoric. Oftentimes, her overarching attempt at sounding like an everyman robs her statements of substance. In the VP debate the other night, here’s what she said on education policy:

Say it ain’t so, Joe [Biden], there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he’s a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here’s a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

What do people make of this?

Here’s what we don’t know: what “real” people in middle America think about it.

Here’s what we do know: the “media elites” (read: educated people who live in big cities) think that middle America loves it. Here’s what David Brooks said after the debate:

To many ears, her accent, her colloquialisms and her constant invocations of the accoutrements of everyday life will seem cloying. But in the casual parts of the country, I suspect, it went down fine.

In other words, we have latte-drinking, high-income intellectuals finding their own inner-Joe Sixpack and declaring, on behalf of casual America, “You go girl!” To speak on behalf of “real Americans” and imply that those voters place such vapidness at the center of their concerns — and indeed are swayed by the hometown shout-out or “doggone it” references — strikes me as patronizing.

By focusing on how middle America will take to Palin’s rhetoric, these conservative intellectuals get to dodge how they actually feel about it. For the entrenched partisan, it’s understandable. Any thinking person with a brain would find Palin’s inarticulate, anti-intellectual, and embarrassingly ignorant (middle east, supreme court, news media, any type of foreign policy) rhetoric perhaps cute for a small town mayoral race, but horrifying when delivered by the possible President of the United States.

12 Responses to D.C. Elites: Middle America Loves Palin’s Folksiness!

  1. Krishna says:

    American voters have a tough choice now – between senility, folksiness and idealism.

    Elderly Mr.McCain wants to fix the economic crisis by axing Chris Cox, the SEC chairman, widely regarded as one of the most conservative and experienced in the current administration – for no apparent reason! He has mistaken vehemence for coherence.

    Obama offers himself as a catalyst by which disenchanted Americans can overcome two decades of vicious partisanship. But the risk is that he is an idealist yet to prove himself in the national scene. Idealists, such as Thomas Paine, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., tend to be leaders of movements, not office-holders.

    You just said enough about *Folksy* Ms.Palin. And she had won the debate with Joe Biden and that tells about his personality too. Who would want to be in American voter’s shoes today?

    George W Bush has emitted enough signals that he doesn’t make the cut even before his first term. Yet Americans gave him two in a row and they know where they’d gotten because of that and the world. Tell me in the midst of all this confusion of senility, idealism and folksiness, they won’t do it again!!!!

  2. Richard says:

    Palin, a hockey mom and evangelical Christian with no fancy degrees, is uniquely suited for this role.

    She’s uniquely qualified to be just like everyone else? Methinks one or two other people must share these traits…

  3. Chris Yeh says:

    DC elites that believe they know what the common man is thinking.

    Millionaire scions of political dynasties that claim to be “regular guys.”

    Upper-class graduates of Ivy League colleges that claim to know what’s best for poor minorities.

    “My country ’tis of thee/Land of hypocrisy/of thee I sing.”

  4. Jon says:

    What has happened to the state of debates in the United States? Where are the modern day Daniel Websters, Abe Lincolns, Sam Houstons etc. etc.? Where are the passionate beliefs and eminent thoughts/ideas conveyed in some form of intelligent communication. I am not sure when the digression of public discourse and oratory started its decent, however, the demise has pervaded all aspects of society. If our founding fathers were able to witness how these debates are performed today they would probably cry.

    Is this excerpt from a debate between the two potential Vice Presidents of the United States or a PTA fund raising event?

    Intelligent politicians and statesmanship have eluded us for some time now.

  5. Brady Yoon says:

    The difference between the common man and the elite is mainly one of opinion, and not actual needs. We’re all people who desire stability, growth, security from terrorists, etc. It’s annoying when people focus so much on how people talk, what they believe in, etc. It is a distraction, because people, no matter what their class, intelligence, or beliefs, share the same fundamental needs. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be Vice President. Attack her qualifications. Don’t attack her personality, the way she speaks, her mannerisms, etc.

  6. Dario says:

    “It’s annoying when people focus so much on how people talk, what they believe in, etc.”

    Brady, let me see if I’ve got this right: it’s not relevant and the electorate should not waste time examining the fact that Palin, who may very well become the most powerful person in the world if elected, believes that our planet is less than 10,000 years old? You don’t think that belief might have some slight relevance to the direction of science in this country and the global community? How about the belief that the War in Iraq is a holy war and that our victory there has been preordained by God?

    …You have got to be fucking kidding me.

    I understand your point about the attacks against her mannerisms, but I see it differently:
    Her mannerisms may be one of several vehicles for the attacks, and if you resent that, that’s perfectly valid. But she’s not being attacked for being folksy, she’s being attacked because she’s done 2 interviews since being selected as the VP almost 2 months ago (vs. Biden’s ~100+), and she looked like a complete idiot in both of them (Gibson: she had no idea what the bush doctrine was; Couric: believes proximity to Russia is a foreign policy credential; emphasized McCain as a ‘Maverick’ of the GOP & his support of regulation, but could not cite a single example from his 26 yr. House & Senate career; knew absolutely nothing about the bailout and its ramifications on the American Economy; etc.). The folksiness critique is only coming because her unbelievably inept answers in the interviews play straight into some (admittedly unfair) very popular stereotypes of middle america. If she gave intelligent answers in the interviews (or in the debate, rather than just calling herself & john mccain mavericks whenever she faced a tough question) her folksiness wouldn’t be a significant part of the national dialogue, and would probably be almost entirely an asset, rather then a liability.

  7. Dario says:

    ..Oh yeah, the criticism of her mannerisms may also have something to do with the fact that they seem to echo some of the very same mannerisms & folksiness that our current (oh so popular) president is so fond of.

    Also in response to Chris Yeh: I share some of your frustrations with politicians who put on a rather transparent veil of being ‘common folks’, but you’ve got to concede that Obama growing up on food stamps while being raised by a single mother, and working his way to the ivy league (and finishing paying off his student loans in 2007) is a little different then John McCain’s legacy admission (and graduation, he was #894 out of 898) at the naval academy, and lack of ability to recall how many multi-million dollar homes he owns.

  8. Jon says:

    “It’s perfectly reasonable to say that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be Vice President. Attack her qualifications. Don’t attack her personality, the way she speaks, her mannerisms, etc.”

    I will attack her mannerisms, personality, character etc. You must be joking when you say this? If she has anything going for her it is her “experience” and qualifications. I have immense respect for someone who did climb her way to Governor of Alaska starting at the head of her PTA. However, her intelligence, character, mannerisms, the way she speaks, beliefs etc. etc. should all be scrutinized the same way they should be scrutinized on the Democratic side.

    We are talking about Second in Command of the most powerful country in the world!

    In times of despondency and vexation (like now), a combination of one’s character, personality, qualifications, previous actions, mannerisms, and her ability to effectively communicate ideas and suggestions all play an imperative on how she will handle those times. All of them should be tossed and turned, contemplated, criticized, judged and repeated again and again.

    It is Sarah Palin’s job to nw change our perceptions of her by getting on T.V., interview, debate, and come off like she knows something about the areas and issues that she could possibly be faced with if she is elected.

    Unfortunately, if she is going to sound overly colloquial and “dumbed down ” for middle America then Ben is spot on when he states:

    “To this end, folksiness underlies all of Palin’s rhetoric. Oftentimes, her overarching attempt at sounding like an everyman robs her statements of substance.”

    And all of this talk is coming from a register Republican.

    Jon

  9. Avg White Guy in KC, KS says:

    How can we believe anything that comes out of the mouth of a politician, no matter what their “background” and/or professed “affiliations”?
    It just all seems to be a little too staged and overly contrite for the times. Perhaps the fault is mine in the lack of faith in politics in this country or anywhere.

  10. Ben Casnocha says:

    Richard — There are many hockey moms, but not very many can say they’re Governor of a state. She’s unique in her political success along with the hockey mom credentials.

    I agree particularly with Jon’s point that everything should be on the table.

  11. Jude says:

    Ah, Sarah Palin. I was offended by her nomination, but to my great astonishment, many of my colleagues seem to think she’s wonderful. They don’t care about her lack of qualifications. She’s the Republican nominee, and that’s good enough for them because, by God, they’re conservatives. For many of my colleagues, *the* only issue of concern is abortion, and because she’s against abortion, she’s a fine candidate. Thus they vote against their own best interests because of one issue.

  12. The thing that I find so offensive about Palin is that her nomination seems to be about her gender. As in, “Look! There’s a woman on the Republican ticket!” That means that other women will just have to vote for her (and John), right?

    Sorry, but this woman isn’t buying it.

    And, what’s worse, there were plenty of other Republican women who were much more qualified for the VP spot. Why not Elizabeth Dole? She even ran for President a few years ago. Or how about Kay Bailey Hutchinson? Or Condoleeza Rice?

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