What Palin defenders see
In the last two weeks, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has seemingly attracted a level of hostility comparable to that which George W. Bush had to launch a foreign war to provoke. Running through the negative commentary contained in pieces such as Tim Rutten’s Sept. 10 column are some themes that say more about her critics than about Palin herself.
For example, much has been made of her supporters’ protectiveness, such as the recent complaint that Republicans are indulging in the type of grievance politics that they have traditionally opposed. “Why can’t she be questioned?” goes the refrain. Obscured by the word “questioned” is the loaded subject of what, exactly, Palin’s supporters are pushing back against. To describe in concrete terms the unnerving frenzy of hatred from the left-wing blogosphere and talk radio would be to make it obvious that the excesses of her defenders pale beside the excesses of her attackers. For example, on Sept. 12, left-wing talk-radio star Randi Rhodes taunted, “She’s friends with all the teenage boys. You have to say no when your kids say, ‘Can we sleep over at the Palins?’ No! No!”
While ugliness can be found in the blogosphere across the political spectrum, the left-wing and right-wing blogs have evolved in different ways stylistically. Whether because of the left-wing blogosphere’s younger demographic, its pent-up frustration after eight years under President Bush or the emphasis the left puts on movement-building over deliberation, left-wing blog commenters tend to use an angrier rhetoric that occasionally devolves into the Internet equivalent of a mob riot. The anti-Palin blog-swarm was so sudden and so intense that it has influenced the dynamic of this election, and it was arguably a significant cultural phenomenon in its own right. There was no excuse for the mainstream media to ignore it. Worse, some of its most egregious lies managed to percolate up into the mainstream media. For example, on Sept. 9, Maureen Dowd wrote a column in the New York Times (comparing Palin to Eliza Doolittle) in which she asked, “Does she really think Adam, Eve, Satan and the dinosaurs mingled on the Earth 5,000 years ago?” The reference was straight out of a viral e-mail in which someone had taken a hoary left-wing Internet line mocking Christians and appended Palin’s name to it. So much for journalists’ fabled skepticism. To criticize the way Palin’s supporters are circling their wagons around her without providing this context is unfair.
Dowd’s sneering reference to Palin’s Christianity is an example of a second major theme of anti-Palin criticism. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared from the World Trade Center attacks, Democrats and the media began complaining that the Bush administration was using the fear of terrorism to gin up political support. Well, Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973, and 35 years later, Democrats are still telling voters that reproductive rights are so vulnerable that we cannot risk electing a Christian, even to be vice president. Aside from the fact that there is no realistic scenario under which Palin could roll back reproductive rights, this fear-mongering ignores the fact that Palin’s political identity is pragmatic, not religious. For example, despite the media portrayal of her as a socially conservative policymaker, Palin vetoed a bill to block Alaska from giving public-employee benefits, such as health insurance, to same-sex couples.
I am a frequent commenter on a few right-wing, libertarian-oriented blogs. In the wake of Palin’s selection, these blogs have been visited by unfamiliar commenters who have attempted to pose as members of our ideological community in order to spread anti-Palin talking points, a practice known as “astro-turfing.” The visitors often attempt to establish their libertarian bona fides by repeatedly declaring their devout Christianity, citing Bible verses and couching their criticisms of Palin in “Archie Bunker” language. They stand out like sore thumbs on these urbane, secular blogs, but they reveal the cartoonish image of Republicans and libertarians that is current on the left. Meanwhile, on left-wing blogs, the criticisms of Palin often echo the criticisms that were leveled at Paula Jones, focusing on her hairstyle and small-town roots.
Back in 2006, cultural critic Camille Paglia told an interviewer from Salon.com that “I think the center of the Republican Party really is small-businessmen and very practical people who correctly see that it’s job creation and wealth creation that sustain an economy -- not government intervention and government control, that suffocating nanny-state mentality.” I believe that Paglia’s conception is still accurate, and the left would do better on election day if they discarded their stereotypes of those of us on the right as religious fanatics and Archie Bunkers.
Alan Douglas Whitcomb is a writer and blogger in Santa Ana who is completing a novel set in the Los Angeles area about a group of young Mexican immigrants inadvertently caught up in a string of crimes.
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