L'Ombre de l'Olivier

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15 September 2008 Blog Home : September 2008 : Permalink

The End of Professional Politicians?

Salon magazine has a description of Governor Palin's recent Nevada rally which includes these paragraphs of the people who came to see her:

"She represents me. She's real. She represents real people," said flight attendant Charlene Bybee, 54, of Sparks, Nev., who wore a black T-shirt with the slogans "I am Sarah Palin" and "Real Women for McCain." Bybee is a self-described "security mom" who has two sons, ages 20 and 24, and was once the runner-up "Miss Nevada." She said she identifies with Palin as a former PTA mom and one-time beauty queen. Bybee, who has been an active Republican volunteer in the past was tepid about McCain's candidacy. But she's so energized by Palin that she's now volunteering for the campaign. "You shouldn't have to be from a major American city to represent most Americans," she said.

Laura Tracy, 27, an unemployed barista from Yerington, Nev., held a sign that read "Hunter Chicks 4 Palin" on one side, and "Sarah Killed My Apathy" with a drawing of a deer rifle and a target on the other. Tracy, who had supported Mitt Romney in the primary, said that she cried the day of Palin's acceptance speech. "I think that it's great that the American people finally have a candidate who they can relate to, with morals," said Tracy, who said the issues she cares the most about are pro-life and the right to bear arms.

Deaun Parker, a 41-year-old single mother of five living in Carson City, who works full-time in workers comp insurance, attended the rally with her 16-year-old daughter Erica, and 12-year-old son Justin, a Boy Scout. "I think that she is a terrific role model for my daughter. She's a role model for me," said Parker, who supported Romney in the primary. Parker described her family as among the "working poor," and said she doesn't want a Democratic administration, which would bring universal health insurance, because she says she doesn't want to pay the taxes for it.

The descriptions remind me quite a bit of the descriptions of the people Judith Warner met for the NY Times and the descriptions we see in coverage of other McCain-Palin events and in the self-described commenters and email-writers who respond to posts and blogs about Sarah Palin. And there is a clear message here that Americans are sick and tired of professional politicians who seem to always end up scratching the back of special interests instead of having principles.

We saw this with Newt Gingrich's Contract With America over a decade ago, we've seen it to some extent with the campaigns of both Bill Clinton and GW Bush (and Reagan for that matter) and I suspect we're going to see it more and more. The idea that politicians should not be a semi-professional elite causes liberal/progressives to go into apoplexy as another Salon piece this week illustrates:

Palin's rapturous supporters embrace her because "she represents me." It's the politics of sheer narcissism.

This crudely personalized and debased approach to civic life has always been present, but it's getting stronger, and the Republicans are recklessly exacerbating it. Never mind that if they succeed in dumbing down the electorate and turning politics into the most superficial popularity contest, the country will suffer irreparable harm. Hey, we gotta win this election!

From the GOP's perspective, Palin has all of the virtues of Bush, and none of the drawbacks. She's a red state culture warrior. And in the new GOP gender con game, the fact that she's a woman automatically makes her a "maverick" and an "outsider."

and (a bit earlier)

Palin represents the reappearance of the one part of Bush that never died -- the culture warrior. Democrats may have forgotten about the notorious red state-blue state divide, or hoped that the failures of the last eight years had made it go away. But it hasn't. It's been there all along. If Palin catapults McCain to victory, it will be revealed to be the most powerful and enduring force in American politics. And that fact will raise serious questions about the viability of American democracy itself.

The culture war is driven by resentment, on the one hand, and crude identification, on the other. Resentment of "elites," "Washington insiders" and overeducated coastal snobs goes hand in hand with an unreflective, emotional identification with candidates who "are just like me."

The author of this pile of whiney entitlement crud clearly identifies with the "elites," "Washington insiders" and overeducated coastal snobs presumably because he considers himself to be one of them and he doesn't grasp that his lot have squandered their self-perceived right to govern by being caught too many times with their hands in the cookie-jar or each other's pockets. I suspect that the ongoing meltdown of Freddie and Fannie and the resulting disclosures about just how many Washington insiders were involved in delaying discovery that fustercluck is going to really really hurt whichever party is perceived to be the insider party and/or the party of Wall Street. This year it seems the party of Wall Street is the Democratic one, as is the party the provided most of the bosses of Freddy and Fanny including the notorious Jamie Gorelick.

While I'm pretty sure McCain would prefer not to have a Wall St. meltdown during the campaign I suspect he's the one who will come out of it smelling of violets, and the fact that he, his campaign and his running mate are all singing from the same anti "unlimited taxpayer bailout" songsheet is going to help. And then there are the Democratic pols like Charlie Rangel who seem to have been caught in a variety of sleazy practices just now to really hammer home the message that Democrats are anything but the party of fiscal rectitude.

To go back to the beginning. The professional politicians are being seen as corrupt and incompetant. If we can find (and Frum nails the problem) outside reformers who can clean house without getting corrupted themselves then perhaps we'll go back to an age where haberdashers, actors and other professions beyond lawyers/politicians are the ones who will be elected.