[...] In 1996, Pat Buchanan (‘The peasants are coming with pitchforks’) appealed to the same bloc of voters with a programme that was militantly Christian, white, nativist, provincial, protectionist and anti-Washington. In 2000, Karl Rove cleverly enrolled this quasi-Poujadist faction in his grand alliance of libertarians, born-agains and corporate interests. It’s worth remembering that in 2004 every American city with a population of more than 500,000 voted for Kerry, and that the election was won for Bush in the outer suburbs, exurbia and the countryside – peasants with pitchforks territory. For an organisation so wedded to its big-city corporate clients, the Republican Party has been hugely successful in mopping up the votes of low-income, lightly educated rural and exurban residents.
What is most striking about her is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual processes of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile. In the televised game shows that pass for political debates in the US, it’s a winning technique: told that she has 15 seconds in which to answer, Palin invariably beats the clock, and her concision and fluency more than compensate for her unrelenting triteness.
Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market. Palin’s view of aesthetics was nicely highlighted in 1996, a few months before she ran for mayor, when a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News happened to light on her in an excited crowd of five hundred women queuing up in the Anchorage J.C. Penney’s, waiting to snag the autograph of Ivana Trump, who was in town to hawk her eponymous line of scent.
‘We want to see Ivana,’ Palin said, who admittedly smells like a salmon for a large part of the summer, ‘because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’
The blot on the Alaskan landscape that is Wasilla is the natural consequence of a mindset that mistakes Ivana Trump for culture.
By implication, then, big city people are unpatriotic (Palin’s last phrase was a sneer at Michelle Obama, a lifelong Chicagoan); they are insincere slackers and draft dodgers – in a word, liberals. The passage reminded Republicans of their party demographics, their strength in the exurbs, and prepared the ground for an assault on the metropolitan manners and mores of their Democratic opponents, in a depressingly effective piece of hokum.
The most likely cause of her undoing will – strangely – be the McCain campaign. In St Paul, unveiled as the goose who could lay for the Republicans the golden egg of the presidency, she brimmed with the inflated self-assurance of the small-world conqueror, and held a national audience in the palm of her hand as she recited the same confident platitudes that served her so well in Alaska. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and McCain and his advisers should have left well alone, left ‘Sarah’ to be her vote-winning self. Instead, they seem to be no less alarmed by her than liberals are, and have taken to force-feeding her, stuffing her gullet with ‘talking points’ on foreign and domestic policy. Under their frantic tuition, Palin has recently looked less likely to lay the golden egg than to produce inferior goose-liver pâté.
She may yet regain her poise. Her populist appeal is still enormous, and it’s far too early to start dancing on her grave, as some commentators have already tried to do. Palin’s campaign-trail mistakes will not calm that deep groundswell of public feeling of which she is now the national figurehead. But, for the last few days, as her education at the hands of her captors has proceeded, we in the cities, with our elitist liberal ideas and our stark terror of what further harm the United States might inflict on itself and the world under a third consecutive Republican administration, have been just a little less likely to wake up screaming at three in the morning.
I'm lucky - my bladder usually wakes me up quietly at 3AM.
Enjoy the rest.