Sarah Palin has been a godsend to all those Americans whom H. L. Mencken denominated as the booboisie. An updated list of those covered by that rubric includes provincial, small-town chauvinists, racists of all stripes, xenophobes, war-mongering pseudo-patriots, anti-immigrationists, global-warming denialists, the defiantly ignorant, deprecators of science and learning, the religious fanatics and family-values bigots, in short, all those Americans who are made uncomfortable by Barack Obama, his race and intellectuality, (by the way race+intellectuality=uppitiness as any member of the booboisie knows implicitly) his idealism, urbanity and his inclusiveness.
She has been a godsend because she makes it possible for the booboisie to express its narrow-mindedness, intolerance, anger, resentment, militaristic patriotism, racism, and hostility to reason and science, without having to use the real, ugly words that make those positions explicit.
Instead of saying that one hates and fears the ¨racial mixing¨ that we saw at the Democratic National Convention, one can simply praise Sarah Palin´s ¨small town values¨. Rather than say that one thinks foreigners are effete, communistic, perverts, one claims that Sarah Palin is well informed on foreign policy because Alaska is ¨close to Russia¨. Rather than say that one thinks science is bullshit and scientists and scholars impractical, ivory-tower fools who can´t drive a nail or saw a board, one waxes poetic about Palin´s ability to dress a moose.
As Deepak Chopra has written recently:
Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the rousing effect that Gov. Sarah Palin had on the Republican convention in Minneapolis this week.
She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of “the other.” For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don’t want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind.
Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from “us” pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of “I’m all right, Jack,” and “Why change? Everything’s OK as it is.” The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time.
Chopra sees Palin´s nomination as a bringing out into the light of what up until now has been a stealth agenda.
So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise.
I think Chopra may be right, but I don´t think that Palin´s presence in the electoral campaign makes the issues quite as automatically obvious as he states. To do that will require that Barack Obama and Joe Biden and other Democrats be relentless in exposing and making explicit the hypocrisy, bigotry, chauvinism, belligerent ignorance, intolerance and fear of change that lie behind expressions like ¨country first¨, ¨small-town values¨, ¨patriotism¨, ´family values¨ and ¨reform¨.