October 17, 2008


Palin appeals to American's anti-intellectualism (Brendon O'Connor, 17 October 2008, Online Opinion)

Foreign distaste for American populism is nothing new and Palin fits a well established set of tropes and stereotypes. This perhaps explains why opinions on Palin have already crystallised even though she has been in the spotlight for only a short time. Drawing on these tropes and stereotypes, people have made a snap decision about what Palin symbolises.

It has been claimed that Europeans didn’t discover America, rather they invented it. It is hard to deny that mythology has played an especially important role in American society and politics. The myths of the first explorers and pilgrims were largely positive with America portrayed as the Golden Land, the New Jerusalem, the endless frontier, the big rock candy mountain. However, soon a series of negative images emerged of Americans as hypocritical, ignorant, money grubbing and uncouth.

Many of these negative views were first propagated by European travellers who visited the American frontier in the 1820s and 1830s and commented disapprovingly on the boorishness and electoral populism they encountered. In the campaigns of the 1820s a former military commander of Scots-Irish stock, Andrew Jackson, was pitted against the establishment figure of John Quincy Adams. Old Hickory as Jackson was fondly called assailed the eloquent Adams for his love of learning and Latin, for being effete, and for being too European in his tastes.

Of course this all sounds familiar: Bush said he knew he would win the 2000 election when he read in a New Yorker magazine profile that Gore said he enjoyed reading the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty. In 2004 John Kerry’s ability to speak French and his wife’s expensive “European” tastes were said to be a distinct electoral weakness, and in 2008 we have another feisty Scots-Irish former military man assailing a Harvard educated silver tongue for his lack of real world experience.

To counter this anti-intellectualism politicians often try to hide their learning. This was one of Bill Clinton’s talents and something he long understood. Apparently Clinton seriously considered choosing the University of Arkansas over the far superior Yale to study law in the early 1970s because he worried an East Coast education would mark him for life (just as he worried that as a 22-year-old draft-dodging would make him unelectable).

...than that the candidate -- in open races -- who is perceived as Stupider will win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2008 7:10 AM
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