Thursday, February 05, 2009

Yuval Levin on "The Meaning of Sarah Palin"

Yuval Levin writes:

... Sarah Palin embodied a very different notion of politics, in which sound instincts and valuable life experiences are considered sources of knowledge at least the equal of book learning. She is the product of an America in which explicit displays of pride in intellect are considered unseemly, and where physical prowess and moral constancy are given a higher place than intellectual achievement. She was in the habit of stressing these faculties instead—a habit that struck many in Washington as brutishness.

This is why Palin was seen as anti-intellectual when, properly speaking, she was simply non-intellectual. What she lacked was not intelligence—she is, clearly, highly intelligent—but rather the particular set of assumptions, references, and attitudes inculcated by America’s top twenty universities and transmitted by the nation’s elite cultural organs.

Many of those (including especially those on the Right) who reacted badly to Palin on intellectual grounds understand themselves to be advancing the interests of lower-middle-class families similar to Palin’s own family and to many of those in attendance at her rallies who greeted her arrival on the scene as a kind of deliverance. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that while these members of the intellectual elite want the government to serve the interests of such people first and foremost, they do not want those people to hold the levers of power. They see lower-middle-class populists like Palin and their supporters as profoundly ill-suited for governance, because they lack the accoutrements required for its employment—especially in foreign policy, which, even more than domestic affairs, is thought to be an intellectual exercise. It is for this reason that Barack Obama, who actually has far less experience in executive governance than Palin, was not dismissed as unprepared for the presidency. Palin may have been elected governor of Alaska, but his peers in Cambridge had elected Obama editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is thoroughly fluent in the parlance of the college town, and in the eyes of the new American elite, Washington is the ultimate college town...
(Hat tip: HotAir)

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At 2/05/2009 11:40 AM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

That's a good one! Thanks for sharing this!

At 2/05/2009 1:42 PM, Anonymous m.z. said...

Since when is Palin lower middle class? She's been in the top third of income for awhile now and is somewhere around the top 10% presently. If people can't identify the middle class accurately, why should we believe they have any ability to identify with the middle class?

At 2/05/2009 4:12 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

I thought Obama's big claim was being able to identify with the poor and middle class. He's a lot further from these than Palin is.

At 2/05/2009 4:32 PM, Anonymous m.z. said...

I thought Obama's big claim was being able to identify with the poor and middle class.

Was that when everyone suspected and claimed he was a prententious snob?

At 2/05/2009 5:01 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

Only a few claimed that. The ones who knew the truth.

At 2/05/2009 5:09 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

Anyway MZ, you ought to take a break from your irrational hate of Palin:

At 2/05/2009 5:57 PM, Anonymous m.z. said...

I never hated Palin, rationally or irrationally for that matter. I disagreed with her. I found the foundation of many people's appreciation of her shallow and without merit. Such thoughts require a depth of which you are incapable given your obsession with tribalism.

At 2/05/2009 6:04 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

I guess I just don't see your comments about Palin's v####a as particularly intelligent. I guess I'm just not capable of understanding your great insights.

At 2/05/2009 6:49 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

But perhaps your interests are less gynecologic and more urologic given your reference to Palin's husband as "sperm donor."

Again I guess I just don't understand such brilliance.

At 2/05/2009 10:19 PM, Blogger Darwin said...


When not being intentionally obtuse, you know very well that terms like "middle class" have to do not only with income but with "class" in the more cultural sense of the term. Palin grew up in a lower middle class mileu and had an education and early marriage highly typical of the lower to middle middle class. Obama's parents, step-parents, grandparents and educational background put him more in the educated elite.

That doesn't mean that Palin's political views are right or wrong, but as the article as a whole pointed out, a great many of the views attributed to Palin by her more ravenous opponents were not even in fact views she'd ever expressed. What we saw was a true culture war attack on "middle class" and "middle America" cultural characteristics by self identified elites.

At 2/06/2009 1:59 AM, Anonymous m.z. said...

If he wanted to make the argument that she wasn't part of the eastern elite, that has more than sufficient grounds. Reagan wasn't part of that elite, and, iirc, Carter wasn't either. (Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama were.) Of that bunch Carter would be the closest to being called middle class.

Middle class to lower class at least popularly generally refers to blue collar. Depending on how you wanted to look at Todd Palin, you could say he was blue collar. There are parts of his biography that don't lend so well to that description. Sarah Palin has done white collar. I may have skipped a part of her biography, but sports reporter, mayor, and governor are firmly white collar. Of course there isn't anything wrong with Palin not being middle class. Heck, more power to her.

The topic of what is middle class has been a bug-a-boo of mine for a while. I don't live in the poorest area in the world, yet when people claim $75,000 to $150,000 is middle class, we're speaking about fewer than 20% of my neighbors. I don't doubt there are challenges at those income levels, but they aren't necessarily middle class struggles. Granted, in NYC and some other metro areas, that kind of income doesn't go as far as where I sit. We still should be able to speak intelligently on the matter though.


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