Palin: The Alienator
Over at The American Catholic, Eric Brown, Tim Shipe, and Joe Hargrave have sparked heated disagreement from readers and fellow contributors by their strong criticisms of Sarah Palin. I have to side with Eric, Tim, and Joe in this debate. I know why social conservatives and others celebrate her as a political leader and a media celebrity. Her supporters see her as the real deal, a politician who has gone rogue by being a rarity in politics: a trustworthy leader on the issues she talks about. They view her as one who’s lived her conservative values, whose principles have guided her real-life moral choices. Palin isn’t seen as just another establishment politician who talks today about effectively winning wars or outlawing abortion only to forget about those matters tomorrow. She is the rogue they can believe in. So they say.
Palin’s well-documented history of making blatantly false statements leaves me doubtful about how trustworthy she is on the issues she represents, but, even assuming that she is truly a believer and will do everything in her power to promote those issues, she isn’t the leader her supporters have been waiting for. Indeed, she’s the opposite of the kind of figure her supporters need to further their goals in the public sphere. Palin excites her base, but she very deliberately alienates just about everyone else by the way she depicts her political opponents, the way she divides America into real and less real, the way she fashions herself as an adversary of the elites and the media and others. The political narrative she has crafted marks her as the rogue, the antagonist, the alienator.
She exemplifies what E.D. Kain calls the politics of pettiness. However right she is on the issues that matter to her supporters, she won’t persuade those of differing or undecided views that her views are the right ones because she doesn’t try to persuade them. Her way of engaging others isn’t even intended to open their hearts and minds; it rather pushes them away and breaks down the consensus that is needed among the general public to maintain political achievements. Those who support her for the values, principles, or issues she represents would be better served by a leader who seeks to advance those values, principles, or issues in the public sphere by convincing others that they warrant wide acceptance and advancement.