If Sarah Palin played a loud, grinding instrument, she would be in my band. The independent patriotic spirit, attitude and soul of our forefathers are alive and well in Sarah. In the way she lives, what she says and how she dedicates herself to make America better in these interesting times, she represents the good, while exposing the bad and ugly. She embraces the critical duty of we the people by participating in this glorious experiment in self-government. The tsunami of support proves that Sarah, 46, represents what many Americans know to be common and sensible. Her rugged individualism, self-reliance and a herculean work ethic resonate now more than ever in a country spinning away from these basics that made the U.S.A. the last best place.
Nugent perfectly channels Palin's appeal to a bewildered, beleaguered, older white America. This appeal is not about policies or even Palin's actual life so much as projection onto someone of an ideal type that represents something deep down in the national psyche. See if you can observe any policy reasons to support Palin in Nugent's poem. Now look at the way he conflates her neurotic fundamentalism and delusional grip on reality with those dry deists who founded this country on Enlightenment principles. Then look at how most see her as "authentic" when she is, of course, less authentic than even John Edwards. And note too the judgment that a governor who quit halfway through her first term represents a "herculean work ethic." We are in Imaginationland here. And boy, how it makes Nugent - and so many others - feel good again, feel as if they have recaptured their country again. They see in this immaculate misconception (with a bonus miraculous birth to another symbol of the pro-life movement, a child with Down Syndrome!) the salve to every anxiety and view all criticism of her as somehow illegitimate, and stemming from a hatred of the real America. Rejecting Palin, of course, is actually a resistance to fake America, with its magical realist narratives and Christianism as a doomed cover for collapsing social norms, family breakdown and drug use. A reader writes:
Churchill's essential genius apropos Hitler was not to see that he was rotten, which everyone did, but to understand that Hitler had suspended the normal rules of political engagement among his followers so that the obvious profit/loss-gain/setback constraints of power politics no longer applied. Sensible warnings that he would lead his country into war and ruin, from inside or outside, were of no value, as they would have been to the Kaiser or even Mussolini.
There are moments in history when it helps to see that the precedents of history no longer cover the ground. No, of course, Palin is no Hitler -- but your central insight, that the normal rules of American political life have been suspended in permanence for her by circumstances and her admirers (she could easily run a campaign without ever having to face a single neutral, much less hostile, reporter) is correct, and this counts.
Of course the Hitler analogy is way out of bounds, as my reader notes. But I do think the fact-free cult of personality around Palin - her embodiment of an idealized representation of the America some feel they are losing - does represent something new and dangerous in politics. What we see is a politician who, for a critical segment of the population (the GOP base) cannot do wrong because she is Sarah Palin. She is a symbolic, iconic figure - and her support comes from non-rational identity politics in a time of economic distress and great social change.
Look: I've read history. I'd rather be over-vigilant than sorry.