Palin: “a person like me”

I’ve been listening to various “man on the street” interviews on NPR, or maybe I should say “woman on the street” because most have been women, including delegates at the Republican National Convention.

Why do they like Sarah Palin?  Because she’s just “a person like me”, “a mom like me”, everywoman with ordinary real life problems.  She’s gutsy yet feminine. But most important, she stands by her family values – which she has now proven by not giving in to expediency (abortion) when Bristol, her unmarried 17-year-old daughter gets pregnant.

I too like “people like me”, gutsy and feminine everywoman, etc etc. Some of my best friends could be described that way. But no way does that qualify any of them to lead this country! Or to serve as vice-president to a perfectly healthy president.

What ARE they thinking? This analysis by respected DailyKos blogger LithiumCola helped:

The point at issue is very deep; deeper than is usually recognized on TV and in the newspapers. To put it simply, the 2008 Presidential race will not be over politics but — as it was in 2000 and 2004 — over the purpose of politics. In that sense it will be a meta-debate, and one that many will miss because they thought it was settled long ago.

Here then are the disputants in this argument over what politics is for in the first place:

  • There are those who think that political argument is best aimed at perfecting a pluralistic society of equal citizens who do not agree on metaphysical questions of purpose and meaning, but nevertheless wish to live together under conditions of amicable cooperation,
  • and those who think that political debate is about winning, precisely, the meta (metaphysical?) argument — about settling fundamental questions of purpose and meaning on the public stage.

Pluralists do not want to address metaphysical questions on the public-political stage. This is not because they think they cannot win but because they think they should not win. Religio-philosophical victory in a political — as opposed to dinner-table — setting has, pluralists think, no upside. We get along as a people in the first place because we first agreed that religio-philosophical issues are not something we need to agree upon. We don’t debate those matters at the ballot box. Rather, we need only agree on the best ways to further our society to the benefit of all, so that we may in our own ways address questions of purpose and meaning at home. A home secured by a concern for the general welfare.

Fundamentalists assume that the stakes are higher. That what everyone is debating is a question that has, secretly or not, deep and abiding metaphysical import. That is why when fundamentalists are told that Obama is a Muslim, they take great notice. Not because they care what Obama’s religion is, but rather because they assume that Obama, like everyone else, is in a metaphysical argument, and means to win it. If he wins, they lose. As far as this goes, it does not even matter whether Obama really is a Muslim, only that his answers to the metaphysical questions are somehow different. The fact that Obama, being a pluralist, does not take himself to be having that debate, only causes cognitive dissonance and the appearance that he is trying to win underhandedly. To a fundamentalist, everyone is always trying to win the metaphysical debate.

Pluralists become frustrated with fundamentalists for the following reason. Pluralists would say that pluralists do not, through political debate, wish to prevent anyone — including fundamentalists — from doing anything they wish to do. If a fundamentalist thinks zygotes are ensouled they are free to think so, and to not have abortions, and to talk about the ensoulment of zygotes all they wish at home or in church. On the other hand, pluralists would say, what fundamentalists want is to impose their metaphysical answers by law upon everyone. Pro-choice does not prevent anyone from having a baby. Pro-life prevents everyone from getting an abortion, no matter what they think of zygotes and souls. Forbidding teacher-led prayer in public schools prevents no one from praying, while the opposite view mandates that everyone listen to a prayer or get out.

Fundamentalists get frustrated with pluralists for the following reason. Fundamentalists would say that their opponents refuse to acknowledge that pluralism has, like it or not, metaphysical import. If the nation is pro-choice that means that the nation has, in fact, taken a position on the ensoulment of zygotes. Refusing to decide is a defacto and underhanded decision. If the nation forbids led-prayer in schools that means that the nation has, in fact, witting or no, said that some things are more important than God. For example, a pluralism of belief.

We can see this last idea (pluralism must take itself to be more important than God) when fundamentalists accuse pluralists of being “secularists.” That word — “secularist” — originally designated a view about the correct structure of society and the proper place for various sorts of debate. It was not a synonym for “atheist.” “Atheist” is position in a metaphysical debate. “Secularist” is a view about where that debate should take place. But in the mouths of fundamentalists such as Bill O’Reilly or Pat Buchanan, “secularist” is precisely a synonym for “atheist.” This is because, to a fundamentalist, there is no difference between attempts to take religion out of the public square and attempts to crush it. To a fundamentalist, everyone is having the same argument that they are having.

I think she’s onto something – which for those of us who are pluralists is almost unfathomable.  We say, as I said above: “What ARE they thinking???” And the answer is it’s not about thinking; it’s about survival.

Brain stem stuff.

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3 responses to “Palin: “a person like me”

  1. Joy,

    I read this one twice, I found it that fascinating. It explains a lot of things, like why for some people winning isn’t everything and for others it’s the most important thing in life. It explains why a clean fight is only for people with (true) scruples, and why the unscrupulous usually win (at least in the short run). It explains why some people can live-and-let-live and why others get angry at those who don’t think as they do.

    Thanks for provoking (p-word) my thoughts.

  2. Pingback: The Politics of Delusion | When This Is, That Is

  3. I went to your site and read your comment on LithiumCola’s essay. You did a good job of translating a complex set of ideas, Paul.

    My own dharma struggle is my strong aversion to the ideas promoted by the Republicans (and to some of their proponents as well) and a strong attraction to the ideas promoted by the Democrats (and to some of their proponents).

    I watched both conventions and the vibe I got from the Democrats was of hope and compassion – strangers holding hands and weeping together for a vision of a better future. The vibe I got from the Republicans was one of disdainful moral superiority. What got folks most excited was putdowns of Democrats and exaltation of the military/war/fighting. It made my blood run cold.