Sunday, August 8, 2010

Psst... It's All An Act

To Sarah Palin's detractors, she's a moron. And I suspect they mean that in its long-lost "technical" sense of someone with an IQ significantly below the norm. Over on Slate, a lively "debate" (so THAT'S what they're calling them these days) is raging over whether or not Sarah Palin actually is Stupid, or if her critics just don't like her because they're afraid that she'll lead a movement to kick their butts. This was sparked by Jacob Weisberg logrolling for his new book Palinisms: The Accidental Wit & Wisdom of Sarah Palin in an article entitled: A Grand Unified Theory of Palinisms and subtitled: "Why Sarah Palin says all those stupid and ridiculous things." (I see they went for the low-key approach.)

As I said in the comments section for the piece (pretty much word-for-word, except for the end): I've never been a fan of Sarah Palin, mainly because I'm not a fan of Populism (any political movement that's predicated on Us vs. Them is Bad News from the outset, and I make sure to stay FAR away). But I've also never considered her as stupid as her public persona suggests to her critics. Like President George W. Bush before her, she's playing a role for the benefit of a particular audience, and (as Hollywood types would likely put it) I'm not in the target demographic.

There seems to be built into the fabric of America a certain level of distrust for royalty and aristocracy - all that's ever really changed are the definitions of royal and aristocratic. For the left, it's the privileged wealthy - those people who were born into (or hatefully expropriated from the desperate masses) scads of money and due to the deference that money (or at least a willingness to share it) tends to create, seem to live under a different (and easier) set of rules than the rest of us. For the right, it's the "elite," an amorphous collection of liberal thinkers who they perceive as being hell-bent on making the lives of average people difficult in the name of whatever greener, social justice-ier or spread the wealthier-than-thou cause they've come up with this week, and are willing to use jargon and technobabble to obscure blatant falsehoods.

Not being idiots, politicians pander to their potential constituencies along these lines - they can't afford not to. You'd think that John Edwards was born in a workshop floor somewhere, there way he continuously invoked his working-class parents. By the same token, President Bush played up his "folksiness" in a way that made one question the competence of his teachers.

The message is always the same: "Like/Respect/Vote For me... I'm the exact opposite of those people whom you (and by extension, I) think have screwed up the entire nation, and when push comes to shove, I will lead you in the glorious War Against the Aristocracy, where we'll fix everything (and if there's any pain to come of it, They will be the ones to suffer it)." Like I said, I'm not in the target demographic for this message, from either side. But I still appreciate the actor's craft that goes into it.

But when I say this, I realize that I'm also saying that even a politician who speaks like an imbecile can convince large sections of the public that they should be in rather powerful public office. But isn't that the power of saying what people want to hear and presenting oneself as the person that people want one to be? It's difficult to acknowledge that we're susceptible to trickery. The desire to want to go back and "fact-check" (or sense-check, for that matter) things that resonate with us requires an understanding that we can resonate with falsehood, and few of us revel or find comfort in self-doubt.

For me, the answers to America's problems are going to lie in a certain amount of shared sacrifice (and likely hardship). Given this, I know that I have to be careful of anyone who comes by preaching that, and be ready to critically evaluate what's being said, rather than taking it at face value, simply because I already believe it to be true. It could all be an act, and the only way to guard against it, is to realize that I can be fooled, too.

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