Via @hughmcguire on Twitter comes an article from the London Review of Books that takes a piercing look at Sarah Palin. It puts her apparent popularity in a clear light by invoking Poujadism, and shows how the really big chunk of America that does not live in cities have long been drawn to Poujadistic candidates. A difference, however, is that this candidate really is a small-town bumpkin, unlike Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, and even the Bushes, who were all big money city slickers who simply knew how to appeal to the anti-liberal, anti-urban yee-haws.
But the article, penned by Jonathan Raban, doesn’t take the easy tack that I’m toying with. He doesn’t put her down for being rural, he simply exposes and explains her appeal so that we city folk can have a clearer understanding of why some people aren’t so quick to condemn her. The article then goes on to skewer Palin rightly; based on her Mercurial tactics, complete disregard for process and accountability, and terrible track record of hypocrisy, pork-barrelism, and mismanagement. It also takes a few shots at her intellect:
What is most striking about her is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual process of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. (Emphasis mine.)
Watch for that phenomenon in the Vice-Presidential Candidates debate tonight. Specifically, watch for this:
Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile. In the televised game show that passes for political debates in the US, it’s a winning technique.
The article, which is fairly long at 5500 words, is worth the time it takes to read. It provides an excellent resumé of Palin’s strange rise to prominence in Alaska, as well as a survey of the swaths of destruction she may leave behind if she moves to Washington. Describing the post-Palin Wasilla, the town for which she was Mayor, Raban says:
Present-day Wasilla is Palin’s lasting monument. It […] is a centreless, sprawling ribbon of deregulated development along a four-lane highway, backed on both sides by subdivisions occupied by trailer-homes, cabins, tract-housing and ranch-style bungalows, most built since 1990. […] Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market.
Go read that article. Especially if you’re a rural America who is easily charmed by jabs against urban liberals and you think someone like Sarah Palin has something good to offer.
Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill, by Jonathan Raban.