Michael Novak’s column today at National Review Online focuses on Sarah Palin’s folksy diction, and the knee-jerk assumption of ignorance it leads some to make.
I wonder if most of the people who are today dissing Sarah Palin, at least among a few conservatives I greatly admire, are more accustomed to debating highly educated liberals. Could it be that they understand the diction of journalism and the academy better than they understand the speech of most of America? They understand the maturity, sophistication, and rationalization of their own world better than the simpler but truer instincts of most of America. [...]
I remember how shocked H. L. Mencken was when he arrived in tiny Dayton, Tennessee, for the Scopes trial, only to find copies of his own publication The American Mercury on sale in the local drug store, and to meet several people in town who subscribed. He actually thought the yokels and the yahoos read nothing. That was the tone Sarah Palin picked up in Katie Couric, who demanded that Sarah produce a reading list. Sarah was too insulted to care to reply.
It’s an interesting premise, that pundits (both conservative and liberal alike) hear phrases like “you betcha” and assume they’re shorthand for an intellectual shortcoming, rather than a reflection of someone confident enough in her own intellectual abilities that she doesn’t have to trot out big words to prove herself smart. To be honest, that’s something I’ve always liked about Palin: she speaks like many of the people I know. Hell, she speaks like me, although without the potty mouth.
If there’s one thing this election has made painfully clear it’s just how easily American voters are swayed by images. Of last night’s Obamathon informercial, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said “He had me at the waving wheat.” Throughout McCain’s candidacy, the image of him as an old man — reinforced for pop culture by SNL’s description of his crippled arms, gnarled fingers making air quotes and, yes, even the unbleached teeth — have persisted despite the fact that McCain is a vigorous individual, seventy-something years old or not. And, of course, let’s not forget the brouhaha over Palin’s wardrobe, a damned-if-she-did (to the tune of $150,000… some of which is my money and I consider it well spent) and damned-if-she-didn’t (as in, you just know the style mags would take her to task over wearing a $30 coat from Tar-jay).
Oh, we like to think we’re long on substance but, fact is, most of us base our opinions on sound bites, headlines and what our friends will think. (Answer: if they’re really your friends they already knew your leanings and accepted you because of them.)
With respect to Sarah Palin, that tendency to superficially summarize and dismiss is made even more evident by her foes’ swift reversal in opinion after meeting her. As Fred Barnes wrote in The Weekly Standard: to know her is to respect her.
Lorne Michaels is the longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin appeared on SNL in mid-October, after which Michaels noted, “Her politics aren’t my politics.” But that wasn’t all he said. “I think Palin will continue to be underestimated,” Michaels told EW.com. “I watched the way she connected with people, and you can see that she’s a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she’s had a huge impact. People connect to her.”
Many of Palin’s supporters say, as Rammer said so eloquently in the comments here: “I speak what I believe. I avoid cynicism and irony. I am Sarah Palin, except that she works harder than me.”
Therein lies the backhand of the “out of touch” allegations that have flown throughout this election. For decades we have elected politicians with the assumption they should somehow be morally superior to us, more educated, better traveled and more deeply read. Then, as Clinton and Edwards’ and even Dubya’s own checkered past have proven, we grow outraged when we discover that, like us, they have feet of clay.
One constant theme among the Obamaniacs? That he’s just like them. Except, unless they went to an exclusive private high school and had an Ivy League education, he’s not. But Sarah Palin? You betcha. She’s just like so many of us.
Maybe that’s why the elitists, who’ve spent their lives trying to overcompensate for their own perceived shortcomings, tear her down. And maybe it’s why so many of us, who’ve come to accept our own limitations, finally see in her the chance to realize the American dream our mothers promised: study hard and one day you, too, may be President.