Saturday, October 18, 2008
Sarah Palin's Anti-Americanism
Chris Matthews raises a good point in his interview with MN Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (video here at TPM) when he challenges the conservative talkingpoint that equates being liberal with being anti-American. Now contrast Bachmann's portrayal of Bill Ayers/Jeremiah Wright-style anti-Americanism with Sarah Palin's remarks in this Huffington Post piece (via Andrew Sullivan):
We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, . . .pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans.
The anti-intellectual, anti-urban current that Sarah Palin represents is actually the mirror image of Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, and by Bachmann's logic one that is just as virulently "anti-American." Ayers and Wright, each in their own way, perverted the liberal belief that America must be perfected by bringing it more in line with its guiding principles of liberty and justice, taking it to misguided extremes that were either criminal (in Ayers' case) or vitriolic (in Wright's).
Palin's extremism is a rural, folksy populism that identifies an authentic America, as well as an "other" -- arrived at by conflating the progressive movement with its most extreme elements -- which it portrays as an internal enemy undermining America's basic goodness. But once you weed out the extremists such as Ayers and Wright, the part of America that Palin portrays as "other" is in fact just as authentically American as what she calls "the real America." Palin might accompany it with a coy smile, but what's she articulating is a hateful anti-Americanism that echoes the kind of urban-rural divide that was at the heart of this country's pre-Civil War schism, with all the implications for violence that her recent campaign events have made evident.
It's a geographic/demographic divide that, as Palin's demagoguery illustrates, has in many ways only partially been healed, and that serves as a coded evocation of America's racial and ethnic history. While both Ayers and Wright represent thoroughly American, homegrown currents of radical thought, they both fill in for foreign "others": Ayers as the European-flavored, socialist/anarchist, "Sacco and Vanzetti" firebomber; Wright as the post-colonial, dashiki-wearing, Afrocentric "angry black man."
Palin and the GOP need them both as charged imagery to mobilize the partisan base, but they are as relevant to the liberal movement as Timothy McVeigh or the Aryan Nation are to the "authenic America" that Sarah Palin celebrates. Barack Obama jeopardized himself politically by associating with either man, but it's important to point out that Ayers, repentant or not, has reintegrated society, and Wright's lifelong ecumenical and conciliatory actions provide a more nuanced context for the political views he expressed in his sermons.
More importantly, Obama has publicly repudiated both men's transgressions. Palin, by contrast, has become a standard bearer for those of her party.