Palin, Political Correctness, and Populism

YouTube: Palin on O'Reilly, 16 February 2010

So I’m in class and I see that Palin is lashing out at Family Guy. Hey, we agree on something: Family Guy is weak and not funny!

Obviously it’s ironic for the woman who celebrated talk-radio host Michael Reagan for his willingness to “screw political correctness” to now complain about how Family GuyFamily Guy, for gods’ sake! could you pick a less relevant show? — was being insensitive to special needs children. (You’ll get no argument from me, Ms. Palin, about how the jokes on that show “just aren’t really funny”.)

So then I went back and read in the transcript where she and O’Reilly discuss a recent New York Times piece about the Tea Partiers and the extremists who are joining them. Note how O’Reilly pretends to be objective by admitting that some conservatives are “pretty tough on immigration”. But of course they’re just one tiny element in a mostly mainstream, nonviolent, level-headed collection of red-blooded Americans. But when a group of gay people or anti-poverty black activists or (heaven forbid) feminists protest anything, he refers to them as “the far left”.

Party Over Here

It got me thinking about what the Tea Party represents and how I can make sense of it. I mean, when I go to a site like OathKeepers, I agree with some of what they say. (“We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.”) But of course, they’re referring to their sworn vigilance to defend threats to conservative free speech — would these people refuse an order to enforce the absurdly-named “Free Speech Zones” at WTO protests?

So it got me thinking about what populism is and was. As I learned it, there was a strong element of anti-poverty rhetoric. Modern populists seem to lack this focus on combating poverty or even mentioning it — much as modern Christian evangelicals usually ignore the bits in the Bible where Jesus orders his followers to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. (Matthew 19:21)

I went to the Sun Prairie High School library and found a book called The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter. I figured it would give me a decent background on populism and the New Deal, but I was shocked to find this passage, which could have been written last week (keep in mind he uses conservative and progressive in their traditional sense, of maintaining or opposing the status quo, respectively):

A conservative politician who has sufficient gifts — Theodore Roosevelt is the best example — can in fact enjoy both respectability and the financial support of the great interests and all the satisfactions of the conservative role in public affairs and yet exert his maximal influence by using the rhetoric of progressivism and winning the plaudits of the reformers.

Sounds like Sarah Palin to me! I also like what he says about our frequent desperate attempt to blame everything on one root cause:

At the so-called grass roots of American politics there is a wide and pervasive tendency to believe — I hasten to add that the majority of Americans do not habitually succumb to this tendency — that there is some great but essentially very simple struggle going on, at the heart of which there lies some single conspiratorial force, whether it be the force represented by the “gold bugs”, the Catholic Church, big business, corrupt politicians, the liquor interests and the saloons, or the Communist Party, and that this evil is something that must be not merely limited, checked, and controlled but rather extirpated root and branch at the earliest possible moment.

This shows up on the left and the right — and as the author points out, reform and education are usually the best ways to combat most problems, even as I agree with a radical systemic critique of power and injustice.

I also agree 100% with Diane that “extirpated” is a great word.

TimeWaster™

Check out The Daily Show‘s collection of Demetri Martin’s “Trendspotting” features. Glorious!

Today I’m listening to: There Will Be Blood!

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