Part 4—Disdain for them the people: Might Richard Blanco’s poetic vision really be coming to pass?
At last week’s inauguration, Blanco imagined us as “one people.” He pictured us as “one country—all of us,” pursuing the future “together.”
Could such a vision be coming to pass? In this post, Kevin Drum asks if the fever is breaking within the modern Republican Party. If it is, we may be approaching the day when “all of us” can perhaps work together again.
That said, tribal forces stand in the way of any such resolution. Tribal forces urge us the people to see the other tribe as The Other.
And no, it isn’t just various flyweights and goons on Fox who promote this vision. Consider what Paul Waldman wrote at the American Prospect when Sarah Palin parted ways with Fox.
For the record, Palin has been one of the least constructive pols of the tribal era. But how odd! When her departure from Fox was announced, Chris Cillizza posted tape of an interview with Palin from the spring of 2008.
It’s startling to watch that tape—to see the Alaska pol who existed before she went round the blend. (Cillizza didn’t know how to pronounce her last name at that point.) We recommend watching that four-minute tape. To access it, just click here.
That said, Palin did go round the bend, becoming a highly visible part of a deeply irrational era in pseudo-conservative politics. Then too, you have the way we liberals reacted to Palin. We were especially struck by the part of Waldman's retrospective where he played a very unattractive old card:
WALDMAN (1/27/13): Palin's theme was always resentment, the acid bile of the culture war. If you ever felt that you were looked down on by Northeastern elitists, or people with too much education, or condescended to by people who think small towns are rather boring and not the only soil from which morality and patriotism can grow, or laughed at by people who find The Purpose-Driven Life to be a less than profound theological text, Sarah Palin spoke for you. She luxuriated in her grievances—against the establishment, against the media, against everyone from the mightiest politician to the lowliest teenager who happened to knock up her daughter...Resentment was Palin’s tool, Waldman says—right after he refers to the way Palin’s teen-aged daughter “happened to get knocked up.”
We’ll leave it to each liberal to judge that particular turn of phrase. For ourselves, we’ll only say this:
We liberals are ardent feminists, self-proclaimed—at least among Our Own. When it comes to teen-aged daughters of The Other, our standards may start to slip. For ourselves, we’re always amazed when high-minded men of the liberal tribe talk about teen-aged girls or women that way. Remember when we would get our jollies smutting up Jenna Bush?
So it very much tends to go in times of high tribal vision.
That said, that posted paragraph betrays other aspects of Tribal Living. Quite correctly, Waldman says that Palin trafficked in “resentment, the acid bile of the culture war.” But to our ear, he rather quickly gives an idea of where some of the other tribe’s tribal resentment may come from.
Do conservatives sometimes feel that they’re “looked down on by Northeastern elitists, or by people with too much education?” Yes they do, and Waldman’s comment about Palin’s daughter may help you start to see why. We’d say the same thing about Waldman’s snark concerning The Purpose-Driven Life, a book we’ve never read. We have read the books about modern political journalism Waldman co-wrote with Kathleen hall Jamieson. This leads us to say that many books may not be fully perfect.
Are conservatives “condescended to” by those in our own liberal tribe? Of course they are, with great regularity! In many cases, they will see and hear this condescension where we the liberals, despite our great brilliance, may be less discerning.
We the liberals aren't not high on them the unwashed rubes. Earlier in his piece, Waldman snarks in fairly standard fashion at “the likes of the American Sod Federation.” (Good God, people! Those farmers!)
Having pleasured us with a good solid laugh, Waldman describes the joy we liberals derived from our “hatred” of Palin:
WALDMAN: [T]he sad fact is that the time when anyone cared what Sarah Palin thought about anything is passing. So let's take a moment to acknowledge what we'll be without when she's gone.For ourselves, we have no idea why someone like Waldman would say that “there are few political figures remotely as interesting as Palin.” We would say that Palin’s role has been tragically counter-constructive. But we can’t imagine why any liberal would describe her as Waldman does.
There are few political figures remotely as interesting as Palin, with her unmatched combination of crazy ideas, absolute confidence despite a level of understanding of public affairs that would embarrass an average seventh-grader, and a nearly inexplicable white-hot charisma. For liberals, she's been the embodiment of "hathos," the thing you find so repulsive that not only can't you look away, you derive pleasure from your hatred of it ("hathos" was apparently coined by Alex Heard in 1985, but it has more recently been popularized by Andrew Sullivan). Can you imagine encountering a politician again whom you will find even half as appalling?
Other politicians have been considered dolts—Dan Quayle and Rick Perry come immediately to mind—but none has reacted to the accusation like Palin, not only defiant but without the slightest hint of embarrassment for whatever new way she exposed herself, from not knowing what the Bush Doctrine was at the end of George W. Bush's term, to coining inane new terms ("refudiate"), to reacting to every new controversy by claiming that the real victim was Sarah Palin (remember "blood libel"?), to that extraordinary, rambling statement she gave upon quitting midway through her first term as governor, explaining that she was walking away because to stay and do the job that the voters elected her to do would be "the quitter's way out." There really should be a long German word referring to the feeling liberals got whenever Palin said something even more idiotic and offensive than she had before, that combination of shock, disgust, and satisfaction that comes from getting yet more evidence that one of the other side's leading figures is such an epic nincompoop. Every time, you could almost hear a thousand conservatives plant their faces in their hands.
And by the way: Is condescension lurking again as Waldman recalls the way Quayle and Perry were also regarded as dolts? (He neglects to include George Bush.) For ourselves, we’ve always enjoyed the instructive tale about the way the Washington Post trashed Quayle as a dolt, right on its front page, over an error the Post itself had made (and had then corrected) several years before. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/05.)
The Washington Post trashed Quayle as a dolt on its front page—on the very day he announced his White House campaign! And alas! Seven years earlier, Quayle had been right about the matter at hand—and the Washington Post had been wrong. But so what? Now, in its glory, on its front page, the Washington Post was wrong again as it mocked Quayle as “the human punch line.”
Conservatives tend to resent such conduct. Being so much brighter, we liberals tend not to notice.
That said, Waldman explains the joy he took from his hatred of Palin—and presumably from the doltishness of Quayle. As we have described many times, Palin provided us the liberals with the joy of sect.
Waldman not only hated Palin. He's happy to describe the pleasure he took from his hatred. To liberals, this may sound like good clean fun—but in the wider tribal wars, it represents part of our tribe’s contribution to the breakdown of “one people—us.” And by the way:
This very day, you can see Melissa Harris-Perry in a commercial on MSNBC. She’s telling us that we should remember Dr. King by asking ourselves what we think “the beloved community” should be in the modern world.
It isn’t Harris-Perry’s fault that other liberals say they take their pleasure from hatred. But when you hear favorites on The Channel discussing the other tribe’s great hypocrisy, recall the way we flatter ourselves with ads about Dr. King, even as take our real joy from our tribal loathing.
(Question: Are teen-agers who get “knocked up” part of the beloved community? To learn about Dr. King’s concept, click here.)
Next week, we’ll review the portrait of the nuanced, thoughtful liberal which suffuses Chris Mooney’s book, The Republican Brain. But how about it? Are we liberals really the nuanced, thoughtful, accepting creatures we persistently say we are? Or are we people who take pleasure from loathing—from hatred? Most directly, are we people who “get down” by mocking teen-agers for getting “knocked up”—as long as they’re from The Other Tribe, the tribe we love to hate?
A stench precedes our liberal hoard as we move into Blanco’s America, trailing self-flattering crap behind us. Often though, in best tribal fashion, we can’t discern this smell.
Tomorrow: Instruction in hating The Other