Sarah, we are not that different, you and I

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I think Rod basically nails it:

I remember the morning I woke up in my college dorm room and went in to take my final exam in my Formal Logic class. I knew I was unready. Massively unready. And now I was going to be put to the ultimate test. I sat down in Dr. Sarkar's class and resolved to wing it. Of course I failed the exam and failed the class, because I had no idea what I was talking about. I wasn't a bad kid, or even a stupid kid. I was just badly unprepared, and in way over my head. Seeing the Palin interview on CBS, I thought of myself in Dr. Sarkar's exam. But see, I was a college undergraduate who had the chance to take the class again, which I did, and passed (barely). I wasn't running for vice president of the United States.

I've been thinking a lot about this nomination and rewatching the videos of Palin's interview. Honestly, it's all made me tremendously sad. There are lot of us lefties who are guffawing right now and are happy to see Palin seemingly stumbling drunkenly from occasional interview to occasional interview. I may have been one of them. But I'm out of that group now.

The Palin pick was the most crassest, most bigoted decision that I've seen in national electoral politics, in my--admittedly short--lifetime. There can be no doubt that they picked Palin strictly as a stick to drum up the victimhood narrative--small town, hunters, big families and most importantly, women. Had Barack Obama picked Hillary Clinton, there simply is no way they would have picked Sarah Palin. To the McCain camp, Palin isn't important as a politician, or even as a person. Her moose-hunting, her sprawling fam, her hockey momdom, her impending grandmother status are a symbol of some vague, possibly endangered American thing, one last chance to yell from the rafters "We wuz robbed." Lineup all your instances of national politicians using white victimhood to get into offices--Willie Horton, White Hands, Sista Souljah, Reagan in Philadelphia etc.--they were all awful no doubt. But I have never seen a politician subject an alleged ally to something like this.


Let us take this story seriously for a moment. I have watched this whole Palin thing with some twinge of personal recognition. I come from a family of seven kids by four women. As I've said before, I've got brothers born in the same year, and brothers born to best friends. My father was a high-school drop-out. I am a college drop-out. I was a father by 24--my father had kids when he was 22. I come to books and learned things in a hard, organic way. I was watching Palin explain to Couric how it could be that she just got a passport last year, and I was thinking, "Shit, I don't have a passport now." What can I say? Azeroth was always a foreign country to me.

My point is that, Sarah Palin never struck me as stupid. When she talked about not backpacking across Europe and working her whole life, beneath the dumb anti-intellectual dig, I saw a gem of truth. I wish she had have mined it, instead of trying to score a cheap point. Rambling aside, she simply isn't ready. Maybe she would be eight years from now, but she isn't ready now, any campaign worth its salt would have known this.

In election season, there is a price for being turned into a symbol. When actual journalists, with a rep to protect, show up, they are going to do their job. Which brings me to the sexism of John McCain. He knew full well what Sarah Palin was going to face if he nominated her. He knew that reporters would go through her past, that they'd quizz her on the present, that she would need to be ready, and he shunted concern aside, and tossed her to the wolves. Think on that for a mement. For one last run at the White House, he risked a future star of the party he claims to call home. How do you do that? I don't meant to rob Palin of agency, certainly she is also a victim of her own calculations and ambitions. But where I am from the elders protect you, and pull you back when you've gone too far, when your head has gotten too big.

Of course the irony of all this is how conservatives have, for years, lampooned the liberal pursuit of multiculturalism/identity politics. But here's the thing, even when done haphazardly, awkwardly, and imprudently, the fight against bigotry and ignorance has rewards. But when you decide to not be a leader in the fight against sexism/racism and simply criticize those who do, you rob yourself of political experience. Put differently, there is a price--bigger than the black vote--to be paid for disengagement. You become ignorant of a growing sector of the world. They expected Hillary. And if it were a black man, they never even knew it could be someone like Barack Obama. So these guys go to the well one more time, and ressurect the old spectres of "Us against Them." But the fools haven't been paying attention--the"Us" has changed. This isn't Alabama, and it ain't 1968. There is a whole class of educated, working women, themselves, the children of educated working women. And this is what McCain has to say to them, "I don't care if you know a thing about foreign policy. I don't care if you know a damn thing about the economy. Here is what you are to me--breasts, hair and a lovely smile."

Turns out it helps to actually care about the fate of women, to know something about them, beyond your own lust, when going for their votes. Who'da thunk it?



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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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