Sarah Palin has made the news again, this time for joining Fox “News” (the only television Dick Cheney wants to watch). I keep thinking she will eventually recede from public view, since she has shown no ability to lead well or to grasp public issues, let alone speak about them in a compelling way. The stories about her attempts to evade public records laws by conducting government business on her Yahoo account or her abuse of power just don’t seem to matter. Well, like a zombie with a $150,000 wardrobe, Palin just won’t go away. Now she’s on a book tour. Watch this video of some of her supporters. Brace yourself to be depressed about the American electorate.
I think my favorite talking point was that we are “no longer exceptional” but “just another country.” Exceptionalism, that hallmark of Palin supporters, is both delusional and dangerous. When you believe your country is better than all the others, you begin to conceive foreign affairs that create moral disasters of epic magnitude. When your belief in your nation’s greatness is founded on fictionalized history, you are likely to continue to victimize the powerless. Aren’t you glad America’s founders made this nation a republic rather than a democracy? It turns out that James Madison called this one:
…there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? (Federalist Papers, number 63)
While Congress is often woefully incompetent and utterly corrupt, at least the people in this parking lot are not determining our foreign policy or our taxation rates. For that, we should be grateful.
Public ballot initiatives fit into Madison’s political view, and not in a good way. For example, the “ick” factor keeps people passing initiatives to “protect marriage” even while there is no rational way to imagine how same-sex marriage would do anything other than strengthen families, including opposite-sex married families. In my home state of Massachusetts, voters very narrowly overturned a measure in 2000 that would have ended the state income tax. Had it passed, disaster would have ensued as just about all state programs (including transport infrastructure and public safety) would have been decimated. But, hey, “if I vote ‘yes’ then my taxes will go down? All righty!” That “wisdom” prevailed over reason.
Before I go back to Sarah Palin, I hasten to add that many supporters of Barack Obama would have been equally comical in the run-up to the 2008 election. What did we know about Obama, other than a few flashy speeches and a very brief Senate career? Many people on the left voted for him without very many specific policy proposals to inform their votes. Many people cheered him on just because he wasn’t a Republican and he said “Yes, we can!” However, the hatred and fear that infects many Palin supporters is rarely found among Obama supporters. You just don’t find Obama fans quoting calling for the death of their opponents through Bible verses.
I just can’t understand why anyone supports Sarah Palin. If you, gentle reader, are a Palin supporter, I hope you will say why in the comments. Her supporters seem to rally around her personality as their focus. Some Obama supporters have this same trait. Whether the personality is attached to a Democrat or a Republican, we should be wary when politicians are elected solely on charm. It’s not good for the nation. Even our founders can’t protect us from ourselves forever.
It’s hard to know how we might move to a better place in our political life. People are increasingly segmented, choosing to associate only with others who share their political views and cultural values. Perhaps the church has a role in all this. Maybe we need to encourage more conversation and deeper relationships across political lines. Perhaps we need to teach more people about a kind of national engagement that moves beyond kneejerk responses and soundbite thinking. Perhaps we need to be willing to scrutinize our own views. Perhaps we need to be willing to admit the shortcomings of those whom we support.
Whatever it takes, we need to change. The direction in our nation’s life is not good. We need to make sure that the toxic combination of anger, mistrust, fear, and self-righteousness that we see among these Palin supporters is an anomaly rather than the norm in our public discourse. In other words, we need ignorance to be the exception, not the rule.