Sunday, October 26, 2008

Identity Politics

by Al Falafool

By now it is just old news that the Republican strategy in naming Sarah Palin to the ticket was all about their need to shore up the party’s fundamentalist base.

Earlier this year the radical right was steadily drifting away from the GOP with little more than outright indifference. Even though John McCain had already proved he was more than willing to say and do whatever it takes to appease them, he failed to convince anyone that he does not still hold such views as once prompted him to call Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan “agents of intolerance.”

As the primaries came to a close last spring, Republican strategists apparently put their heads together and concocted the most extreme composite of a personality that would best offset McCain’s perceived shortcomings as a true extremist for the general election. Then, incredibly, they found the perfect embodiment of that outrageous caricature in Palin.

Sarah Palin’s deceptively simple appeal to the GOP base and those dubious “undecideds” comes from her assumed identity as someone who is “just like you.” Never mind that it’s an utter lie spoken in an exaggerated Fargo accent by a total phony. She has the nerve to stand up and say it out loud to all those disgruntled and disaffected right-wingers who had been feeling abandoned by the party they had long been sucked into supporting.

But although they still eat up and spit out those lame old “Joe Sixpack” and “Hockey Mom” sound bites, the truth is that nobody believes that Sarah Palin is just like them. If she were, how could that be enough, even for the least ignorant among them? Would anyone who knows they couldn’t possibly run the country think that someone like them could possibly run the country?

Now, I am not the most intelligent person I know. But at least I know better than to hope that any President-in-waiting should not be way smarter than me, or anyone at my level. Any of the Palin zealots who have seen and heard her in action - and can still identify with her - must surely also recognize that it would be better to have someone at least slightly smarter than themselves in charge.

I believe that Palin, herself not the brightest bulb on anyone’s Xmas tree, is actually smart enough not to identify with any of those loonies who show up at her rallies. She is not really like them and they are not like her. The only thing they can all agree on is the kind of people who are “not like us.”

This is the one common denominator among Palin and her backers: what they tell themselves she is not.

For religious fundamentalists, she is not someone who is anything other than Christian: least of all a secret Muslim and certainly not a - gasp! - atheist.

For the embittered female demographic she is not a man.

For staunch conservative Republicans, she is not one who has failed to toe the party line even as little as McCain ever did.

She is definitely not a socialist or a lesbian. Or a big-city sophisticate. Or particularly intelligent.

Most of all, she is not black.

On this last count Palin leaves no room whatsoever for doubt or equivocation. Her exaggerated folksy manner and upper Midwestern nasal twang convey a covert racial bond between her and those hordes of resentful white Americans who, like her, harbor deep irrational phobias about people who are not as white as “us.” Palin’s overall persona is so lustily appealing to them because it is farther from black than any white person would ever feel comfortable owning up to in mixed company.

This is identity politics at its most insidious. Sarah Palin’s cutesy little winks, virile/feminine posturing, and droppin’ off the g’s from the ends of her gerunds have tapped into the mother lode of latent white supremacy. Those deepest shared feelings are only obscured by any number of things that are still generally acceptable, unlike outspoken hatred based on race.

Like some convoluted secret code Palin’s mannerisms resonate deeply with anti-Obama voters who don’t consider themselves racist but are.

And John McCain clearly expects to ride this undertow of racism right into the White House.

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