In criticizing Palin, her message is usually ignored
Nov 15, 2010

In criticizing Palin, her message is usually ignored

The media loves to relentless talk about Sarah Palin from just about any angle. It is certainly not just the right that does this, deriding palin is a favorite of the left as well.  However, the one thing about her that seems to consistently be either downplayed or flat out ignored is her actual message and why that message rings so well with so many people. We can learn a lot by understanding the issues and sentiments that are resonating with so many people and it may be surprising to discover that a lot of them are not so very different from messages espoused on the left. I have written previously of why we shouldn't mock the Tea Party, and this discussion regarding Palin ties very closely in with that.

Consider, for example, this Time article from back in September that I read the other day which discusses various reasons why we shouldn't underestimate the success of Palin. None of these given reasons address in any way her actual message but just considers many other factors that leads to her success such as her "clever exploitation" of political situations, a "refus[al] to adhere to the conventional playbook" and then this lovely gem:
That posture, along with — let's face it — her watchability, star quality and good looks, is what keeps her core supporters hanging on her every word. Her followers forgive her sloppy syntax and seemingly haphazard methodology — to them, this makes her accessible, relatable and real. 
This is a description based entirely on her personality, her attitude, and of course the inevitable description used when talking about female politicians: her looks. Throw in the body of the article talking about her clever political moves and we have a seemingly complete description of why she is so successful without any mention of how her message does or does not resonate with voters. Of course, I am sure many of these very much legitimately are factors and influence the degree of her success. However, we shouldn't dismiss the importance of her actual message.

Part of the issue on the left is that if you credit Palin's success on her political message, than this gives legitimacy to that message or at least the importance of it within voters. It is almost canonical that the response would be, as it is, to try and explain away her success by focusing on all these other attributes. If one does that it allows one to remain staunchly convinced of the veracity of ones own message and its importance to voters. 

As to her message itself, consider the following two aspects of it and their similarity to other people espousing it. Firstly, we have a frequent dismissal of the "lamestream media" to use her words. This is a message that resonates pretty strongly I think for it is fairly easy to see the failures often present in the mainstream media. I talk about this a lot on this blog. More importantly, Jon Stewart has just drawn enormous attention with his Rally to Restore Sanity augmenting what he normally says on the Daily Show which was also focused entirely on this issue of the failings in the mainstream media. It is an issue that resonates with Daily Show viewers and Tea Party followers alike for the simple reason that at its core it is true when either person says it.  Indeed, I think this sentiment is a pretty latent among the people but often not explicitly discussed and so when someone discusses failings of the mainstream media it has a pretty powerful appeal. 

That all said, there are of course many differences on the focus, presentation and indeed hypocrisy between these people; I certainly don't want to imply a false equivalency here. Indeed, as an exclusive commentator on Fox and reliance on rather extremist rhetoric, Palin often hypocritically represents the very failings of the media one might wish to denounce. The difference in sophistry between her critique and that of Jon stewart is enormous. However, the general anti-MSM sentiment remains the same. 

As a second example of her message resonating consider the general "anti-establishment" thrust. The idea that the political process in Washington is broken and that some new outsider is going to come in, refuse to play by their rules, and shake the whole thing up giving the people finally someone who represents them in Washington is an often repeated story. It is a story told relentlessly by Palin, but also by the apparent next House speaker Boehner, McCain and infamously by Obama. Indeed, the tide of anti-establishment populism was truly what carried Obama into office with the narrative that he was going to fundamentally change the political process in Washington, something he has completely failed to do. Much like the media example, a latent dislike of the political process in Washington is a sentiment that is fairly prevalent in population so when someone like Palin or Obama tries to tap into that sentiment it is bound to be effective. Again, there are obviously numerous differences in the details, but the general sentiment is the same. 

We ignore the fact that Palin's message rings true for a lot of people to our own detriment. The best approach is to try and learn from her success as to what the key issues people are having and then work to fix those issues. We should not just flippantly conclude that because some of what she argues for is just objectively nonsense, that we can dismiss everything she says and the reasons it resonates with people.

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