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.