Academic journal article Borderlands

Bush in Drag: Sarah Palin and Endless War

Academic journal article Borderlands

Bush in Drag: Sarah Palin and Endless War

Article excerpt

I Introduction

The nomination of Sarah Palin as running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain initially energized a lackluster campaign. While Governor Palin's nomination cost the ticket substantial support in some quarters, it injected 'fresh enthusiasm' for the Republican ticket among voters who identify as evangelical Christians (Carnes, 2008: 34). Among those who were electrified by Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, giving her three minutes of standing ovation, Palin clearly made them feel proud (R. Smith, 2008).

It is easy to show that Sarah Palin was a weak candidate, and many prominent people have done so. Mocking her 'frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences,' Dick Cavett (2008) dubbed her 'The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla.' The Columbia University Teacher's College Record saw Palin as the 'anti-merit candidate' (Zimmerman, 2008: 3). Longtime conservative George Will expressed his concern about McCain's 'visceral judgment' (2008) while conservative columnist Christopher Hitchins castigated Palin as a 'national disgrace,' 'a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience' (2008). Jonathan Raban noted in the London Review of Books that 'she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual processes of thought ... instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies' (2008). Both the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune cited McCain's poor judgment in choosing Palin as a factor in their endorsements of the Obama/Biden ticket. With characteristic pith, Garrison Keillor observed of Palin's candidacy, 'The American people have an ear for B.S. They can tell when someone's mouth is moving and the clutch is not engaged' (2008).

Some accounts from people in Alaska who know Sarah Palin characterize her as smart, savvy, hardworking, energetic, ambitious, narrow, ruthless (Kilkenny, 2008; 'Letter', 2008). These are believable characterizations. It would be a mistake to underestimate Sarah Palin; her swift rise to prominence is perhaps the 2008 Republican campaign's most lasting effect. While some observers write Palin off as a temporary sideshow, Howard Fineman of Newsweek commented that Palin is 'the big winner in this campaign' and predicted that she has entered national politics to stay (2008). Frank Rich of the New York Times bluntly credits Palin with 'more testosterone than anyone else at the top of her party' (2008). Regardless of the motives behind Palin's surprise resignation from her position as governor of Alaska in July 2009, Palin is likely to continue to influence conservative politics in the U.S.

Even more to the point of this paper, it is a mistake to underestimate, or wrongly estimate, Palin's supporters. Casual dismissals of Palin enthusiasts as 'idiots' confuse intelligence with desire, generate a misplaced sense of superiority for her critics, and get in the way of more critical understandings. Unlike Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, and other fringe vice presidential nominees, Palin has a potent constituency with ideological clout and staying power. [1] CNN exit polls indicated that 73% of voters identifying as white Protestant/evangelical/born again Christians voted for McCain/Palin; 55% of non-born again Christians did so as well ('Exit Polls', 2008). A post-election Gallup poll found that 76% of Republicans would like to see Palin 'become a major national political figure in the years ahead' (Newport, 2008). This constituency is not going away, and, if Palin is sidelined as a national political figure, her supporters will nonetheless continue to influence U.S. politics. Some of the people drawn to her could, in a different political landscape, move in more progressive directions, but to imagine such shifts requires attention to how Palin 'works' for them. …

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