Zwickel: Newsweek's Palin Essay Misses the Point


Current Seattle Times (and former Stranger) music scribe Jonathan Zwickel, who is to women who don't like soup as honey is to bees, had a very visceral reaction to John Meacham's essay in Newsweek on Six-Pack Sarah Palin's folksiness and the pitfalls therein. So the Daily Weekly invited J.Z. to respond with an essay of his own, which follows thusly:

Meacham's essay is obvious, if necessary. Unfortunately, it veers away from the critical point: The Palin Problem is entirely about class. Of course it shouldn't be—it should be about empirical qualifications, as Meacham wishfully claims it is. But when have American politics ever turned on what should or shouldn't be?

(Personal admission: It was a sense of naive idealism, of what "should be," that originally led me to register Republican in high school; a sort of Ayn Rand-ian, bootstrap mentality plus a vision of small government that allowed for greater self-rule. Then I went to college and learned how fucked up things had become over the course of U.S. history. Sorry, people need people. Republican idealism can't hold.)

No, American politics turn on what is, and what is is this: Palin supporters have a fundamental difference in the way they see the world. These are undereducated "folks" satiated with bad credit, bad TV, and all the Wal-Mart-bought accoutrements of the new, false middle class. These are "folks" that happily see themselves up there on the podium next to Joe Biden, the overachiever who always got better grades and hotter chicks in high school. Like Palin, they can only see themselves—it is an all-American cult of personality that prevents them from understanding the ubiquitous brain surgeon/president analogy.

"Just like me" is the only empirical qualification that matters to a huge section of the population. This divide, an American Idol-ization of America where any charismatic dolt with a wink and a song can be voted to instant stardom, is the reason behind the financial crisis. Palin is the product and the mascot of this divide, which is why her ascension is so depressing. There's no way the rich, educated Republican elite want her to be President; it's the Republican bubbas that see her as one of them.

It's all about class, you betcha. And real discussion of class in America—the land of equality and opportunity and the mythical "middle class"—is taboo. It certainly doesn't win votes or sell magazines. Proof: Read the hundreds of semi-literate, pro-Palin/anti-Newsweek comments that follow Meacham's article. They demonstrate that Meacham is simultaneously reinforcing the empirical facts some of us know and embodying the liberal bias others know.

His story is accurate and fair but hardly controversial. The controversial story is about class in America. The controversial story is about how our differences are now so great that there is no common ground, no American dream. Cynical, yes, but true.

The damage is already done. More so than '00 and even '04—partially because there's a black guy in the running—this election has drawn the divide in far deeper, uglier, more permanent terms. We either idolize the candidate or think he's evil incarnate. It's a literally retarded dialectic that the last eight years of Bush has bred. We used to be smarter than that, but I can't remember when.

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