Monday, November 15, 2010

Populist Darling or Embarrassment?

You tell me. Is Sarah Palin's reality show on TLC a brilliant effort to reel in the white working class? Or is it jumping the shark, as former supporter Jennifer Braceras believes?

It's the old, old question in politics. How folksy can you get without becoming a caricature of folksiness? Democratic politicians are required to show that they are just like you and me. That goes back to Thomas Jefferson who went to his inauguration in plain clothes. Writes Ron Chernow in Alexander Hamilton:

Jefferson eliminated the regal trappings of the Washington and Adams administrations and brilliantly crafted an image of himself as a plain, unadorned American... For two weeks after his inauguration, Jefferson stayed at his boardinghouse near the Capitol and supped at the common table.

So what are we to make of Sarah Palin's folksiness? Put it this way. Suppose you were Sarah Palin and you were planning a presidential campaign. You know that a campaign is all about image dusted with a little fairy dust of issues. You know that voters really aren't interested in wonky discussions of the details of health care. You have succeeded in numerous public debates and candidate forums down the years by avoiding the policy details and appealing directly to the emotions of the voters. You've been a successful elected politician since 1992, rising from city councilmember to mayor to governor. You've been savaged by liberals for being a hick and an embarrassment. What would you do?

I'd say that the thing to do is to play up your folksiness. Talk non-stop about "common-sense conservatism." Appeal to the great unwashed middle with down-to-earth media events. And hope that it all comes together.

I keep thinking about the white working class, and in particular the white working class woman. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the white working class. It's had a pretty hard go because the Democrats have forsaken it for liberal women and minorities. And the Republicans just don't seem to get the white working class. Now here is Sarah Palin doing reality shows, hauling nets, piloting fishing skiffs, in the middle of her family. Yes, it's all rather récherché and hard to take for the educated classes. But what does it say to the working classes?

The question the pollsters always ask the voters is: Does the candidate care about people like me? What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I like Sarah Palin. I think she is a lot smarter than she's given credit for. She, like Reagan, (sorry Ms Noonan) takes the jabs and barbs with grace and humor. Being beautiful and magnetic doesn't hurt either. But I think her quitting as Governor is fatal, regardless of her reasons. The thought of 4 or 8 years of hearing how stupid she is and enduring Bush-like hatred would be debilitating to supporters and detractors alike. We need a Republican who is fiscally conservative, wonky and articulate. Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI)comes to mind, Mitt Romney also fits the bill. We need to break the media of their habit of denigrating any Republican President as dense.