Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The Struggle to Explain Sarah Palin

Culture Wars, Mommy Wars, Partisan Wars: Americans have been debating the phenomenon of Sarah Palin through a wide variety of prisms. Foreigners, however, are apt to see our politics through their own prisms. And naturally, the British see Class Wars. To be precise, the Daily Telegraph's U.S. editor sees "a certain cultural elitism about the fact that Sarah Palin is, well, a bit of a redneck. Apparently some even think she's trailer trash because she wears hoop earrings."

There is something to this, of course -- I mean the perception of cultural elitism, not the hoop earrings -- just as there is something to Le Figaro's take on the Sarah Palin phenomenon. Their deeply French coverage of the American vice presidential candidate dwells on the breathless, gossipy details ("le petit ami" sounds an odd description of Bristol Palin's hockey-playing boyfriend) and treats the story like one for the paparazzi -- almost as if we were writing about celebrities of the status of, say, the wife of the president of France.

My local Polish newspapers, meanwhile, have utterly buried the story. Too confusing! Perhaps they have a point too.

By Anne Applebaum  | September 3, 2008; 5:36 PM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: RNC, Night One, Impressions
Next: A Made-for-TV Event


The article of Le Figaro was not so much about Palin or her family but much more on Mc Cain and his attitude towards them. I tried to read between the lines the implicit subtext nevertheless, I failed to see the famous French elitist perspective. It was rather neutral. But, perhaps, it is convenient to think that the Frenchmen do...

Posted by: saraalfama | September 3, 2008 6:56 PM | Report abuse

For once I think the Brits have us to a t. Class warfare it is. Where is her elite degree? Why did she have so many kids? How can she kill cute little...moose? Who does her HAIR???

I think if she were 300 pounds and had a West Virginia accent she would not be on the stump. However. She has a good record and a great rapport with constituents. If she convinces me she has the capacity to learn quickly and listen to good advice I will send her and McCain a vote.

Posted by: Kelli K | September 3, 2008 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Geez, Applebaum, don't piss your pants.

She'll only be vice-president for four years, then Obama can try to mesmerize everyone with speeches again.

Your nervousness is not winsome.

Posted by: WHINE taster | September 3, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

My boyfriend is Dutch and lives in Amsterdam and all our friends are asking me if this is for real? You really put a Jerry Springer guest in the second most powerful position in the world?

Its embarrassing.

Posted by: Becky | September 3, 2008 7:05 PM | Report abuse

WHINE i think you missed her point.
the brits see this as class warfare which - of course - would favor the underdog.
fact is, palin accentuates the fact that the u.s. has become obsessed with its backwoods hillbillies, now raising them to the highest offices in the land.
how does this play in the rest of the world?
america can play its own trailer park game. the world will choose another, "classier" world leader.

Posted by: postal1 | September 3, 2008 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Obama writes his own speeches and he doesnt need a bunch of puppet masters to coach her how to act.

Posted by: Tori | September 3, 2008 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Don't get me started on the Dutch. Really. Are you f'ing seriously embarrassed by the Dutch? Seriously. You made that up didn't you.

Posted by: Deiter Mannlicher | September 3, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Who gives a rats @ss what the Dutch think. If their opinion matters that much to you then move there and suck up to them.

Posted by: Anthony Scagnetti | September 3, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: me | September 3, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

The Dutch are part of Europe and its quite important to know how America is viewed overseas. That you don't know that shows that you don't give a rats about America's standing in the World - you poor simple person.

Posted by: Rosie | September 3, 2008 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I am proud of hillbillies and rednecks. It is time the media chill out. McCain and Palin have alot going for them. Palin is a breath of fresh air.
Biden has been in Washington since Obama was 11 years old. Is that change you can believe in? Nope. Besides, Id love to go hunting with Sarah.

Posted by: Kentucky | September 3, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Do you actually know any French? "Petit ami" means boyfriend in French. It doesn't mean little friend if that's what you were thinking. It might be useful to learn the language in question

Posted by: Michael | September 3, 2008 7:27 PM | Report abuse

It's important to know how America is viewed through Europe's eyes. Holland is part of Europe and the fact that you do not know anything about America's standing in the World makes you a simple person - devoid of a wider perspective.

Posted by: Rosie | September 3, 2008 7:28 PM | Report abuse

@ Anthony Scagnetti

You're quite right, you don't have to give a rat's @ss about what the Dutch think.

But I'm afraid the Dutch or anyone else outside the US don't have that luxury (yet) with regard to the president and vice-president of the US.

Which is why the republican party has been a mindboggling combination of freakshow and real-life nightmare ever since dubya made his inexplicable way to the top.

If McCain and Ms GunsBabiesNjesus get elected you are well and truly on your own

Posted by: Wilm | September 3, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Rednecks can run the trailer parks (sort of), but shouldn't run this country.

What are we, Zimbabwe?

My liberal butt might just cash out and move to a place where education, class, and manners are appreciated, respected, and where people have aspirations beyond the Jerry Springer Show.

I can't even imagine how we're being laughed at by other nations.

It's time to start taking education seriously again. Is Sarah the only one in the family to go to college?

Heck, did her daughter or future son-in-law drop out of high school?

Did she really perform a wedding service at Wal Mart?

This can't be happening. This is a redneck's dream and an educated person's nightmare.

Posted by: Notta Redneck | September 3, 2008 7:37 PM | Report abuse

the salience of the palin controversy comes from the notion that while the current party system has tried to make political titans seem ordinary, it has not traditionally done the reverse. Sure, Sarah Palin seems like an ordinary lady with a complicated family life, judgement that sometimes seems great and other times horrid, and she has held a bunch of interesting jobs.

Since when has that been what we sought in leaders? leaders are supposed to be smarter, stronger, more diligent, and more considerate than the rest of us. as a bonus, we want them to care more about others than we do.

Cheney was a bad VP only because he does not care about others a lick (even those close to him), but Palin is a bad pick for the office for all the other reasons.

none of the reasons for her selection are good ones:

1) she satisfies the desires of the kind of political extremists (existing on both sides) that has degraded our political culture

2) she is an ordinary figure with average judgement, unable or unwilling to control her staff

3) she has lived in proximity and essentially married to oil production and as a consequence loves all things hydrocarbon (even though she seems to have no technical training in any relevant areas)

Sarah Palin is ordinary, which may make he slightly better than the 1988 Dan Quayle, but is still does not make her fit to be our VP.

Note - how did the phrase "a heartbeat from the presidency" gain prominence? it seems so stupid, and yet I cannot think of a way to make the same rhetorical point with more elegance.

Posted by: farbermiller | September 3, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I frankly don't see the classism here, although it is an obvious thing for which to reach. Letterman is telling jokes now about "Jerry Springer" Palins, which I guess is a reference to the brother-in-law, but frankly, that's in the same ballpark with Billy Carter and is not something to freak out about, if you support Palin. The real issue in these wars is, and always been, abortion. Bork and Thomas were treated horribly because they were thought to be crucial deciding votes against Roe. Palin is a pro-life woman who can popularize, or at least promote, anti-abortion sentiments far more than any elite man. When you see the sneering, the barely concealed anger, and the angst of TV journalists, that is what lies at the bottom of it.

Posted by: Mark | September 3, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

That article is a piece of garbage: The British so much more class conscious than we Americans are. Their culture is a celebration of style over substance. If you speak the King's English with the proper Oxbridge accent, then you can talk around the periphery of any subject and get along fine at the highest levels of politics and business over there.

There difference between Americans and British is that within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone we'll tell them that they are full of 'it'.

And that is what we are doing to Gov. Palin, who abused her office, lied about being a reformer, and has Lord knows what other skeletons in her closet.

She, a 44 year old woman, was pregnant with a child with Downs Syndrome and she flew to Texas to give a speech. Then her water broke and instead of heading to the nearest Texas NICU should flew from Texas to Anchorage, didn't even have her personal physician meet her at a NUCU in Anchorage, but traveled from Anchorage an extra hour to give birth in a her small, hometown facility?

It just doesn't make sense. She's either as reckless a decision maker as McCain or there's more to that story. Either way, it all adds up to the fact that not only is she not qualified, and not only is she an extreme right winger with views that are very out of touch with mainstream Americans, but the scandals are piling up and with the abuse of power and lying about being a reformer she's already on thin ice.

McCain did himself in with this stupid, reckless, cynical, crap shoot of a pick.

Posted by: Deep Blue | September 3, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Petit ami is french for boyfriend; an apt description for her daughter's babydaddy

Posted by: ANDREW g | September 3, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

We are only on our own if Obama is elected and we have a bigger government and more taxes.

Posted by: Dave | September 3, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse

the left-wing of the Democratic Party has left the moderates (Clinton Democrats) and conservative (Reagan Democrats) ... without a candidate ... but now, McCain looks more like "change" than Obama who picked the career-politician-Washington-Insider as his Veep .. no wonder the Foreign Press are confused!!

Posted by: Francisco Cardenas | September 3, 2008 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Wash Post, 03 Jan 2007: "Obama has become the first potential presidential contender to admit trying cocaine."

Posted by: Dave | September 3, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Obama in his own words: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though," he says. Citation - Washington Post, 03 Jan 2007.

Posted by: Dave | September 3, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Re: Coke adds life

That's only because George W. Bush said that he was too drunk on too many occasions to 'remember' if he did Coke or not. Kind of like how Clinton smokes pot, but didn't inhale.

Good luck putting around silly stuff. I hope you buy some nice baking powder with your McCain Points.

Posted by: Deep Blue | September 3, 2008 8:36 PM | Report abuse

I thought John McCain would pick Vernon Dursley as his running mate because of their mutual interest in drills. The choice of Sarah Palin, who I had never heard of, came as a complete shock. But a Republican need not have any preparation or capacity to become Vice President or President. The Republican Party has a negative agenda, which requires little skill or talent to implement. George W. Bush's presidency resulted in at least an 8 trillion dollar loss for the United States of America (4 trillion surplus to 4 trillion dollar deficit; probably 16 trillion dollars lost is closer to the true figure). What will a McCain-Palin administration cost?

Posted by: Zach Burton | September 3, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I am a recent immigrant, first time voter and frankly I am scared by all the shallowness, cynicsm, hypocrisy and double standard approach to selecting our future leaders that seems to be used by conservatives in my new country. I took the trouble to talk to several new citizens like myself who overwhelmingly tilt republican and many seem to share my concern. Maybe I am too new to this to understand what the cultural undertones, recent history and prevailing political underpinnings are but I do know that this is a race that is going to be very very nasty.

Posted by: Patrick | September 3, 2008 8:52 PM | Report abuse

I have been reading terrible sexist comments posted in the Post. I tried to post a comment with a racial slur on the "Obama Factor" and it was blocked.

So the post allows women to be denigrated publicly but not a black man?

Completely sexist - but not racist!

However this writer belongs in Poland and she needs to stop slamming American feminists.

Posted by: Post Discrimination | September 3, 2008 8:58 PM | Report abuse

People who criticize Palen for being from what they call a "small" state have a small brain. What makes their part of the country more important than hers or what makes them more important than an Alaskan. That sounds like it came from some stuck-up sissy who has never done a shred of hard work. A Democrat neocon who doesn't know their pie-hole from a hole in the ground. They don't have a clue of what it is to be an American.

Posted by: rick | September 3, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Check out notta redneck. You will not be missed.

Posted by: rick | September 3, 2008 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Lets bash all people in trailer parks. Thats about as redneck a comment I have heard. You people ought to stick your heads up your rump because they are the same.

Posted by: rick | September 3, 2008 9:28 PM | Report abuse

The Brits criticise us for being elitests. Give me a break.

Posted by: ChuckB | September 3, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Red neck factor?


Posted by: Anonymous | September 3, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

A woman with a picture like that cannot make fun of anyone's appearance or their cultural influences by calling them a "redneck".

It would be like Cher calling someone ugly. The irony would be overwhelming.

Posted by: TheManKeepin'YouDown | September 3, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Dear Deep Blue:
Your comments look like cut and paste plagiarism from about five other blogs. Who are you, really? Joe Biden?

Posted by: Aeschuylus | September 3, 2008 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

I disagree with all of the posters.The term "Redneck" is meant to describe White Racists and Supremacists without the white sheets and burning crosses and I think they are right. Sarah Palin sole purpose is to give White Racists and White Supremacists another excuse to vote against the Black candidate Barack Obama.

I think the Racists and Supremacists are really being Cowards by not being honest about their opposition to Barack Obama. We have not problem admitting that we support him because he's the BEST candidate running and yes the FACT that he's Black means he can address some of the White Supremacy and Racism that is so much a part of this Nations downfall. Its time for the Racists and White Supremacists and Black man hating lesbians to have an open and honest debate about which direction they feel this country should move in, but they don't want that because their argument is DUMB and they will be crushed if they expressed it.


Posted by: Realbrother | September 3, 2008 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Once people have made up their minds, they hit wherever it hurts. Palin's provincial lifestyle is an easy target, but I don't think it explains the reaction at its core. There are an awful lot of people who simply don't like radical conservatism and wouldn't have been sold on her no matter what her package was.

Posted by: Gail | September 3, 2008 10:12 PM | Report abuse

These Republicans must realize that the only reason they are talking about change at all is because Obama has consistently and repeatedly focused his attention there.

It is HIS central theme, the Republicans are trying to co opt it as their own.

Too bad McSame is another Bush and Palin is just a poor excuse for a VP candidate.

Posted by: delantero | September 3, 2008 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Real Brother here.

I wasn't impressed(would you expect I would be?). Now of course she didn't outline ANY specifics, she only spoke of policy and White Supremacy and bashed Barack for being Black. Even their "Country First" slogan is White Supremacist codespeak. They mean "White" people first and they are fooling no one.
This Country is made up of more then White Racists, Supremacists and Black Self-hating wish they were White Sellouts.If any of you fell for that farce then shame on you.

Posted by: Realbrother | September 3, 2008 11:25 PM | Report abuse

You guys are killing me...
I listen to people all the time yakking on and on about East Coast elitists and I never really believed it, but did someone really say is she the only person in her family to go to college? Oh, I get it. You went to college because your highly educated family sent you to the oh the finest of the finest prep schools in the country and it was so hard for you to get in, right? "Oh no. I went Silver Spring, MD public school." Right? Elitist friggin'ignorants. YES I said friggin!

Posted by: OHMYGOD | September 4, 2008 12:35 AM | Report abuse

I am amazed once again by comments coming from the left wing. You are such easy marks it hardly seems fair.

Or maybe you are just bitter, and that is why you stick to your taxes, welfare state and Obama.

Get a grip.

Posted by: Jay | September 4, 2008 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Sara if you failed in bringing up your own daughter and failed to teach her right from wrong how can the American people trust you as the next president '(in view of the fact of McCains age and senility which surely brings you closer than any vice president before you to becoming the next president. I believe as President of America you will finish off this once proud and mighty nation.
Bush because of his low IQ has done a lot of damage can America withstand another tough talking usless president.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 4, 2008 5:18 AM | Report abuse

How nice and white? Almost spotlessly so.
I thought about bleach all the way through.

Now I definately know who I want as President and Vice President:

a man who is disorented on stage,

and a woman who pees in the words, then puts on lipstick and goes out to dinner.

I'm so impressed by the United States!

God bless America!

Posted by: sanity | September 4, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm not convinced that either McCain and Palin are capable of positive real change in this country. To begin with, and with all due respect for McCain's military background, neither of them represents Americans of today. Neither one of them are in touch with the realities of the problems this country truly faces. And they are incapable of intelligently discussing these issues.

The choice of Palin by McCain displays his ineptness. She has no meaningful experience worth a hoot regardless of the spin doctors. And I could deliver a speech just as well if Mr. Gerson or the actual speechwriter wrote one for me to deliver.
After all, she was well coached. She did a good job of it, there's no denying that, but delivering a speech does not qualify you to be Vice President or more likely President.

McCains health is a major issue also here.
After eight disastrous, wasteful years of Bush do we as patriotic Americans want not only more of the same, but additional devestating agendas from the Supreme Court and the religious right? I think not!

Posted by: sanity | September 5, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

You should learn some French before you make a fool of yourself reading all kinds of silly things into a boringly straight, factual story. 'Petit ami' means boyfriend, nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: oisin | September 5, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I believe Obama and Biden are men who are focused on what’s best for this country. Period. McCain has resorted to gimmicks, skirts, etc. I can say that, because I’m a woman. I’m not going to bite my tongue when talking about Palin, because she didn’t bite hers when talking about Obama. If she can have the runs of the mouth, then so can I.

Palin’s a known racist and a nasty person. She is not prepared to take over for McSame if something was to go wrong. Crying sexism with Putin or bin Laden won’t work the way they’re trying to make it work for Obama and Biden. She’s in the big arena. Obama’s black and he’s taken the hits. Michelle is black and a woman, and she has taken the hits. Get ready Sarah. We will not spare you. Welcome to the big show. You’ve shown us you can read a speech the Bush’s writer wrote for you, but that’s all. You didn’t even know what the duties of a VP were a month ago. You just got a passport in 2007. You’re a racist journalist with a small nasty mind. What are you going to do with bin Laden and Putin? Interview them? Give me a break.

She is not the change we have been waiting for. McCain isn’t either. That’s evident in his pick. They are just trying to show the country that anything this woman, her family, republicans, say or do…it goes and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. The code is “It’s a white world, and we don’t care if some dark Harvard boy who graduated top of his class is the best man for the job. We don’t care if the repubs messed the Hell out of this country. If we want to vote in another bottom of the class graduate and a sportscaster, who is not qualified to be a greeter at a Walmart, with 5 kids, we can do it. It’s our country. We’re going to keep it as white as our Aryan GOP convention. That’s our America, and we don’t want Change. We don’t want the diversity we see at the democrats convention. We’re showing everyone that we can embrace teenage, unmarried, sex and illegitimate babies and it’s ok, so long as the kid’s white. There’s nothing wrong with it.” Take everything Palin has said, done, her kids, etc., and put Michelle Obama in her place and tell me what the country would think. McCain would be up by 50 points in the polls. They brought the kid who knocked up Palin’s daughter and sat in him up front for the world to see and he’s proud of describing himself as a “Redneck” with lots of other profanity. You let a black kid have all that on his myspace page and see how America reacts. It won’t be the “Oh, they’re just kids and they’re planning on getting married.” The “redneck” said on his page, “I don’t want kids.” Let’s be honest. Palin is trash. She is. There are some women who are not. Hillary Clinton is not. Look at the picture of Palin’s family. I don’t have to look hard, but some people might have to, because it’s hard for them to see fault in anything or anyone white. But be honest with yourself. Look at that family. The baby never has on shoes. The girls are not beautiful, the whole family looks worn and tired, like they were just picked up off the side of the road or something. They kind of remind me of the “saner” family members in those “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movies. You know, there’s the evidently scary ones that everyone knows to run from and then there are the ones who can “pass” for normal in town and you’d never suspect that they are off in some way. That’s the Palin family. The clothing is out dated, etc. I am NO fan of John McCain or Cindy or their daughter, but look at them compared to the Palins. You can tell the difference between regular/elite white and trashy. Palin’s trashy.

I think she tries to pass as a normal white woman in a Tide commercial, but I believe she can go to a KKK rally and be at home. You’d never hear her say that, of course, but it’s true. She’s only able to stand up at the RNC because she’s white and be totally accepted and praised and worshipped overnight. She is not like Obama. She is not like Clinton. There’s something off about this woman and I don’t want her anywhere near the White House.

The scary part is that lots of Americans think they are just normal and she’s just a decent woman making her way in the world. She’s not. There’s a lot of “Nig***” going on in her mind and behind that sneaky squeeky clean smile. She tries to come off all nice like the way Clark Kent looks on Superman, behind those glasses, but she’s just what some whites would love to have representing them. Someone who has their beliefs but looks mainstream and non threatening enough to get into power. Someone everyone can give a pat on the back to, even though some of the people who would be giving Palin a slap on the back, might find a knife in theirs.

Obama/Biden, the only choice. Let’s not go back 500 years with some racist trashy woman.

Posted by: Vegas | September 6, 2008 12:55 AM | Report abuse

I hate how American politics has devolved now to the point where unless I'm some kind of gun toting, blindly nationalistic, uneducated hillbilly, then somehow I'm less of an American.

Fact of the matter is, my parents were immigrants and I too grew up with a funny name, and in a place where I was surrounded by diversity of people and ideas. And yes, education was important to us, even if we had to struggle to get it. That is the America I know, and the only America I can relate to.

It just boggles my mind now that somehow the political arena's center stage has been commandeered by the "Trailer Park Elite."

Posted by: Bo | September 6, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are not what they say they are. Time after time, Republicans are shown to be liars, hypocrites, cheats, thieves, and morally bankrupt. But they do know how to get Republicans to vote for them by merely repeating the party's moribund mantras we hear election after election. You know the saying, "do as I say, not as I do," here's another one: "it's not what they say, it's what they don't say." I don't recall Bush saying he would balance the budget and of course he went the opposite way with record deficits. He never said, "I will borrow trillions of dollars so that we will have record deficits." That's called "borrow and spend" and it is much worse than "tax and spend" because we have to pay it back with tax dollars collected from us and it is getting larger and larger which will leave our budget tighter and tighter for other things such as military pay, funding education, etc. He swore to defend the constitution, yet he has record numbers of "signing statements" that he thinks will protect him from violating laws that he signed. Never mind renditions, Guantanamo, FISA violations, and numerous legal decisions against his administration. Republicans have given us arguably the worst Presidents in my lifetime. The problem with Republicans I think is that they do not respect the Constitution. Why should religion be a part of a political campaign? Why should we be discussing abortion when it is established? If abortion is unconstitutional, any Supreme Court Justice regardless of party affiliation will make it unlawful. But abortion is Constitutional. Although not a lawyer, I cannot think of a situation where it would be unconstitutional if Roe v. Wade is followed. Maybe the problem is that Republicans need to read the Supreme Court's decision in order to understand it; then they might shut up. Americans look stupid to the rest of the world because we are not humble, we are not thoughtful, we are not concerned about the disadvantaged and we are not concerned about the future. Despite what we say, we are not conservative. In fact, the opposite is true. We are spendthrifts, we are not savers. We would rather borrow money to invade a sovereign country than on research and development of future energy sources or developing alternative means of transportation in order to wean ourselves off of oil. We would rather borrow and spend on killing people (including our own) rather than helping the less fortunate among us. Instead we end up imprisoning many of these people.
I hate it when I see and hear politicians proclaim our superiority to the world; whether it is military might or economic prosperity. We should be humble. I don't need to hear that we are the mightiest, the strongest, the richest, etc. I want to hear that we care about the less fortunate, not the most fortunate among us (Bush tax cuts favor the rich - which incentivizes greed and further widens the gap. We don't need to tell the world what they already know. Politicians need to tell us what we don't know. E.g., our academic standing in the world (20-something), the number of people in prison (most in the world); facts like these are eye-openers. But even with eyes wide open, we need to take off our blinders and see us as we really are. Lastly, do we really need to self-proclaim, "God bless America"? If I were God, I might say, "who are you to tell me who to bless?"

Posted by: rhideokim1 | September 6, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company