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The New Politics Of Palin: Ignorance Is Strength?

Eight working mothers from the Virginia Run development in Centreville went together to the Palin-McCain rally yesterday because Sarah Palin is "just like us." This is something new. Nobody ever accused Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan of being just like us.

"She justifies what we do every day," said Beth Tweddle, who works in sales and carried a sign she drew herself, saying "We [heart] Pit Bull Palin." Tweddle was already a McCain supporter, she said, "but Sarah just energizes us and got us out here because she does what we do, she lives like we do."

We don't live in an age of looking up to authority anymore. We don't cotton to the idea that there are people who are our betters. In this time of "American Idol," bedroom bloggers and the belief that experience, knowledge and education don't necessarily mean a whole lot, Palin is a symbol, a statement that anyone can make it if he or she really tries.

Karla Rupp, a real estate agent, went to see Palin on behalf of her three children, especially the one who has multiple disabilities and is in a nursing home. Val Lewis couldn't stay away -- "that's how empowering it is to have Sarah up there. I have four children; she has five. And we get it done."

The crowd, which I counted at 8,000 but which police estimated at 23,000, gathered at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax City represented votes for John McCain but passion for Palin. McCain knew it; he led the audience in a chant of "Sar-ah! Sar-ah!" Still, did the man who might be the next president know that hundreds would start streaming out of the park as soon as Palin finished speaking, leaving a noticeably sparser audience to hear from the top of the ticket?

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Republicans wielded "celebrity" as an insult. No more. They have seen Barack Obama's electric effect on audiences, and they have trumped him, at least in a way. Obama may still draw larger crowds and inspire followers with a message of hope and change. But the governor of Alaska is winning people over with empathy, which the dictionary says means "understanding and entering into another's feelings," and with something even more direct: a sense that her experience is that of the average American family's.

"She's just as flawed as we are," Tweddle said. "It's not the fact that she's a woman but the way she does it all. And let me tell you: There're more American parents with unwed pregnant teenaged children than American parents with Harvard grads. She's real."

For hours, I walked through the crowd talking to people, mostly women. Again and again, I heard variations on this idea: "She's more like us than Obama, McCain or any of the others," as Rupp put it. "She knows what we go through."

Think of whomever you consider the greatest presidents, and odds are, they were about as far as you can get from being like the rest of us. They tend to have come from wealth, power, fame, the pinnacle of our education system or all of the above. FDR could speak to the pain Americans felt in the Depression, and no one especially cared that he had never personally felt such strain. Reagan could inspire Americans to believe that the nation had a higher purpose, and his celebrity and Hollywood roots only made him that much more admired.

Palin is connecting because, like a reality TV show's most sympathetic contestant, she puts front and center the inexperience, imperfection and pain that most professional politicians work so hard to hide. McCain can't quite tell the story of the pain and sacrifice he experienced as a prisoner of war? No problem. Palin will express the emotions that he can't. That's what mothers do.

"Being a mom is tough, and being a mom and working is really tough," said Carol Buro, who could spare only an hour before she had to pick up her daughter from kindergarten in Vienna. She went to the rally anyway, because she just had to see Palin. "I was going to vote for McCain, but I wasn't very excited. I felt he was a little too political -- saying things because that's what people want to hear. Now I'm just so proud of Sarah. You know, we've all been through a lot. And she's seen some tough times, and she's stood up for what she believes in."

Most people I spoke to readily conceded that Palin lacks experience with or knowledge of many important national and foreign issues. But, as Allison McGarvey, a teacher who lives in Stafford County, said, Palin is "a courageous woman, and what she doesn't know, she can learn quickly. Let's face it, no president knows all the issues. Anyway, I don't see how a candidate can pick one stand and just stick to it. The world situation changes every day. It's their moral and ethical background that's important."

In this hyperdemocratized society, the national conviction that anyone can succeed is morphing into a belief that experience and knowledge may almost be disqualifying credentials.

Like many at the rally, Victoria Robinson-Worst sees Palin's lack of experience as an asset. "I know people who have experience who are totally incompetent," said Robinson-Worst, who lives in Loudoun County, designs wedding flowers and raises two children. "And I know people who have no experience who step in and get it right. I mean, women can do amazing things."

This is where culture wars, identity politics and self-suffocating academic theories of deconstructionism have led us: Authority is suspect. Experience is corrupting. Ignorance is strength?

Next will be "war is peace." Or have we already heard that one?

Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

By Marc Fisher |  September 11, 2008; 9:25 AM ET
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Comments

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Pit Bull Palin? No thank you. Her mouth will get her in trouble eventually.

Posted by: MaryJ | September 11, 2008 9:59 AM

You say Quote "This is where culture wars, identity politics and self-suffocating academic theories of deconstructionism have led us: Authority is suspect. Experience is corrupting. Ignorance is strength?

Next will be "war is peace." Or have we already heard that one?" Unquote

Thank you for being honest with your real lack of respect for the judgment of people (democracy). Lefties will never learn. You guys like the "Obamas" are sooo elites you have no time for the so called "ordinary good for nothing" people. For this alone "Obama" should loose the election.

By the way read the comments of the voters (I have listed below for you) again and may be you'll get some insight and learn to respect people who don't share your "elitist" relativist world.

"Like many at the rally, Victoria Robinson-Worst sees Palin's lack of experience as an asset. "I know people who have experience who are totally incompetent," said Robinson-Worst, who lives in Loudoun County, designs wedding flowers and raises two children. "And I know people who have no experience who step in and get it right. I mean, women can do amazing things."

I thought the following will help you even better to come to grips with reality.

REFERENDUM - 14 QUESTIONS TO FIND OUT WHAT SECULARISM/ATHEISM HAS GOT TO OFFER OUR SOCIETY AND IF IT WILL SOLVE ANY OF OUR PROBLEMS?

To many secularists/Atheists religion is a threat to “Society”. For the past hundreds of years religion has been blamed for every fault and every evil under the sun. So thats not new and no surprises there. However it is time to find out what the alternative is and what it has got to offer to the society. Let’s work this out based on facts, history, research from leading authority on secularim/Atheism etc.

http://atheisticviolence.wordpress.com/

I am waiting for your article on Obamas links to the terrorist world.

Regards,

Zac.


Posted by: Zac | September 11, 2008 10:13 AM

Marc Fisher, have you ever considered that your urban-centric contempt for heartland values is flawed?

Evoking logic is a noble pursuit, but you do not have a monopoly on it. Your reality is indeed cold, and covered in concrete; ensconced in polluted air and simmered in stuffy cubicles and tiny hallways around water coolers with contempt for those of us with a clean and clear rural American perspective.

Your perspective goes something like this:

"Hi I'm Marc Fisher, and I tink that a handful of highly populated urban districts should trump the rest of the country in this election. In fact, I think rural folks' logic is so flawed, they should just vote the way us city folk tell 'em."

Son, there's a reckoning comin'. Right now it's reclining on couched contempt for common sense in America. It's so much larger than the culture war people like you foster.

By his own words in the Koran, the flawed prophet Mohammad admitted to; pedophilia, misogyny, and murder. Yet people like you pretense a moral equivalence between Christians and Muslims.

You are going to literally choke on your own hubris when the bad guys figure out a way to set off a dirty bomb in your dirty city.

Sarah Palin is the antithesis of the deceased northeast media cabal that hates her so. You are simply their errand boy.

Posted by: rural americans | September 11, 2008 10:47 AM

Wait, I thought Barack and Michelle "were one of us," what with their student loans and all. Wasn't that their selling point over "How Many Houses?" guy? I guess that sales pitch from B&M wasn't quite true then? What to make of the flip-flips . . .

Posted by: K-Romulus | September 11, 2008 10:56 AM

I can easily understand why working moms identify with Palin in a way that they can't identify with male politicians. As a working mom myself, I really admire Palin's working mom status and her ability to be a mayor and a governor. But from Mark's article, it looked like these working moms were already republicans...working moms who aren't can admire and congratulate her, but many of us won't be voting for her!

Posted by: Working moms identify with her, but not all will vote for her | September 11, 2008 11:27 AM

Why has the post done more to find out is it true that the fateher of palin daughter baby is by a young black male not who she presented at the convention?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 12:12 PM

From today's online chat

"Marc, the female factor will be hard to measure, because some women will be afraid to say it out loud (that they are pro-McCain) to the media, and others won't admit it to their liberal, Obama-loving friends."

Hmmm...Obama-loving....hmmmm...

If I were particularly sensitive, I might say this is quite similar to an epithet hurled around in the South in previous decades.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 1:54 PM

"Ignorance is strength?"

Based on that alone, you win by a landslide.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 11, 2008 2:40 PM

"Next will be "war is peace." Or have we already heard that one?"
"Ignorance is strength?" - Oo I have heard that one before too. At different time in different countries too. I advise those, who love to read, to read the history of the communist countries too. They will find a lot about the enemies with "fancy" diplomas. A lot about the corrupted intellectuals. A lot about the virtue of being born in blue collar family.
I have seen that horror movie. Whats next? Sending people with education from Harvard to concentration camps for retraining in "Christian" values!

Posted by: John | September 11, 2008 3:16 PM

Fisher, can you at least pretend that you aren't a socialist with a loathing for anyone right of Edward Kennedy?

All politicians are the same, whether right-winged, lipstick-wearing hockey-moms from Alaska or corrupt-Chicago-machine-supported idealistic black socialists, or two old white guys that have wandered the halls of the Capital longer than the average grad student has been alive. The gender, race, and age are completely secondary to their proclivity to say whatever does well in daily polls and focus groups. They serve only one master - the acquisition of power. Liberty be damned.

Posted by: Leesburger | September 11, 2008 6:16 PM

"Eight working mothers from the Virginia Run development in Centreville went together to the Palin-McCain rally yesterday because Sarah Palin is "just like us." "

You know, I bet that these women don’t truly believe this, or if given some thought would probably not phrase it that way again. I think what they mean is that she represents the best of us. The same with Reagan. They probably know that she is not “like us.” Come on, how many people, man or woman, have five kids and are governor of a state, even if it is Alaska? How many people have that much confidence? She represents an ideal.

"McCain knew it; he led the audience in a chant of "Sar-ah! Sar-ah!" "

Even if he wins, this is just sad.

"Palin is connecting because, like a reality TV show's most sympathetic contestant, she puts front and center the inexperience, imperfection and pain that most professional politicians work so hard to hide."

To some extent, ok. But, many people find her so attractive and appealing more because of the competency she exudes as well as utter fearlessness.

Regarding FDR – people loved being recognized, called out by the big man. They loved it that he didn’t drive by them in his limo, which probably everyone did back then. He was a fatherly figure. Perhaps his own physical limitations gave him sincerity. Four of FDR’s sons served in WWII. So maybe we were less far apart then.

Camille Paglia has belated weighed in on the phenom that is Sarah Palin. What you imagine she might say with some differences at the edges, is pretty much what she says. The leafy suburbs comment and needing to stay in touch with the regular people, grate a little bit, but ok. As if because I live in a city, I am out of touch and above it all. Would that I were!

Lots and lots and lots of people in the US have caught up to how Camille thinks about women, so her perspective, though always incisive and entertaining, does not pack the same punch as it used to.

Posted by: Terry | September 11, 2008 7:54 PM

I am a mid-forties, former Marine, registered Republican, reasonably pro-life, divorced, working mother of three (technically four - I had a child I gave up for adoption). But I just don't get Palin and the women who have flocked to her cause (and I used the word "flocked" intentionally). Have all the women with whom you spoke at the Virginia rally forgotten (1) that they aren't voting for just HER; so that (2) if elected, she's only has a job famously cited as "not being worth a bucket of warm spit?" Or do they all think McCain will listen to her advice, or do they believe he will not survive a full term, or that there will a coup or something to put her in charge?

I was leaning towards voting for Obama before the VP picks because, while McCain has political experience and overall doesn't look too bad as a candidate and I truly respect what he went through as a POW, I cannot believe that the torture he endured did not leave psychological scars as well as physical ones. (Among other issues, I'm waiting to hear what he plans to do about the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Surely, he CAN"T condone it, right? I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.) I just wasn't convinced that he's best for the job. And by choosing Palin, I'm now convinced -- he isn't.

But Palin? To me, she comes across as the PTA president who micro-manages and then complains that no-one else volunteers to do anything, that "perfect" do-everything mom everyone envies, until you find out her life behind the scenes is a mess and her kids won't speak to her after they leave home.

Her experience: Mayor of a city that, according to Wasilla's website, has a population only slightly twice as large as my daughter's high school's student population, and Governor of a state that has approximately 250,000 people less than the county in which I live. I'm sure she's qualified to be Vice President -- heck, I think I'm probably qualified to be Vice President. But I'm also sure neither of us is qualified to be President. On top of her lack of experience, they've lied about the details of what little record she has. And they're getting away with it.

So, registered Republican or not, I'm tired of the hypocrisy and lies used by the party of "family values." I'll be voting for Obama.

Posted by: Had Enough | September 12, 2008 10:31 AM

I would just like to point out that "Zac" is clearly not an "ordinary citizen". His rhetoric is so by-rote and playbook that it is obvious he works for the McCain campaign.

No free-thinking "ordinary citizen" can still call Obama an elitist when their candidate can't even remember how many houses he owns. McCain is the definition of the "elite". The only people trying to make that definition stick to him are those actively involved in campaign who desperately want this to somehow define Obama.

Unfortunately for them, the facts speak otherwise and the ordinary people won't buy it.

Posted by: Matt | September 12, 2008 12:57 PM

All the above comments are interesting, but I more intrigued by how Marc and the Fairfax County P.D. could be so far off on their head counts.

Marc, I think a column is called for discussing your head count methodology and techniques. I always wanted to win one of those guess the jelley beans in the jar contests. Maybe with your help and the anticipated future column I will have a leg up.

Posted by: Tom | September 12, 2008 2:56 PM

I'm sure you forgot about Abraham Lincoln. They don't come from any humbler background than the ol' railsplitter himself.

Posted by: M. Todd | September 12, 2008 3:00 PM

It can be a source of emotional comfort that someone is or seems to be "just like us." However, different qualities are necessary to be successful at being president and vice president. We have had 8 years of a president that people thought they would "like to have a beer with." And we can see what that has gotten us.

One can be inexperienced, but knowledge and intellectual curiousity--especially about national and internation affairs--can help to offset that disadvantage. So can surrounding oneself with astute and savvy cabinet and staff members. But if one is both inexperienced and insular, that won't work.

Sarah Palin is photogenic, has some gubernatorial experience, and an interesting life narrative. But these qualities are not nearly enough to offset her reactionary world view--which is more of the same thing we've gotten the last 8 years.

And anyone who thinks it is unimportant how the rest of the world views us should be reminded of how it affects our ability as a superpower to form alliances that are in our best international and national interests.

Posted by: Anne | September 13, 2008 12:32 AM

Can someone please explain to me why being "like us" is a remotely relevant qualification for VP, or President?

I quite like the idea that our nation's leaders are a bit smarter and better informed than "us" - and what personal hardships they've had to undergo is their private concern.

This involution of the political and personal spheres - whether or not you call it "dumbing down" - is a dangerous and pernicious development. Look at the havoc wrought by non-experts after the Iraq invasion, and the current financial crisis, again greatly helped on its way by the negligent and complacent know-nothing in the White House.

And this is without even looking at Sarah Palin's ideology, which places her to the right of 80% of Americans.

Politics without ideas and without analysis very rapidly turns into demagoguery - which is precisely what we're getting from the GOP at the moment.

Posted by: Simonbuc | September 15, 2008 2:09 PM

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