Populism can be a necessary corrective, but it also has a tendency to amplify our worst instincts. Here, for example, is Sarah Palin on conservative talk radio, reaching heretofore unknown levels of sheer vacuousness:
It’s time that normal Joe six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that’s kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it, but it’s motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to make sure that our ticket is victorious, and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe six-pack like me, and we start doing those things that are expected of our government, and we get rid of corruption, and we commit to the reform that is not only desired, but is deserved by Americans.
What’s this, you say? That excerpt isn’t from InterviewPalin.com? Nope – here’s Palin on the economy:
Todd and I, heck, we’re going through that right now even as we speak, which may put me again kind of on the outs of those Washington elite who don’t like the idea of just an everyday working class American running for such an office.
I’m thinking geez, the rest of America, they’re facing the exact same thing that we are. We understand what the problems are. It’s why I have all the faith in the world that John McCain is the right top of any ticket at this point to get us through these challenges. It’s a good balanced ticket where he’s got the experience, and he’s got the bipartisan approach that it’s going to take to get us through these challenges. And I have the acknowledgement and the experience of going through what America is going through.
It gets better. Here’s the “question” on foreign affairs:
HH: Governor, let’s close with some foreign affairs. It is reported that you had an Israeli flag in your governor’s office. You wore an Israeli flag pin occasionally. One, is that true? And two, why your support for Israel?
SP: Well, it is true, and I ran into Shimon Peres recently at a meeting, and he even pointed that out. He said I saw a picture of you on the internet, and you had an Israeli flag in your state government office, and I said I sure do. You know, my heart is with you. And all of those trials and tribulations throughout history that Israel has gone through, not only does that allow me to want to support that country, but Israel is our strongest and most important ally in the Middle East. And they are a democratic country who I believe deserves our support, and I know that John McCain believes as I do that Israel is our friend, and we need to be there to support them. They are there for us, and I do love that country.
To be fair to Palin, the segment on abortion did touch on some specifics (a cynic might call it cultural signaling). The interview was also intended for a friendly audience, so I certainly wasn’t expecting a harsh interrogation. But the emptiness of it all continues to astound. Here is a woman who has perfected the art of saying nothing.
On the economy, she wants to “[put] government back on the side of Joe Sixpack.” On foreign affairs, Israel is our “friend” and “deserves our support.” Hardly controversial statements – but are voters supposed to draw conclusions from this nonsense?
As an agnostic, I’m rarely incited by the culture war, but I try to respect disagreements over abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. I dislike the notion – popularized by Thomas Frank – that social conservatives are somehow duped into voting their consciences.
With Palin, however, there’s nothing more than cultural signaling. There isn’t even an attempt to put forward coherent positions on the economy or foreign affairs. Her entire political gambit is premised on the idea that voters will buy into her phony populism – issues be damned! – because of some vague assurance that she’s like you and me. Voters frequently support politicians who embody their moral convictions, but they also expect their representatives to ably defend those values in the public square.
Nominating a more accomplished social conservative – Sam Brownback comes to mind – would have offered values voters a real incentive to come out for McCain. Palin’s candidacy, on the other hand, can only be described as political trickery. You’re expected to vote Republican because you like and identify with her, not because she’s prepared for office or because she’ll be an effective spokeswoman for your values. She may be a fine governor, but Sarah Palin as Vice President is an empty pantsuit.
UPDATE II: This is also quite good.
If Sarah Palin is nothing more than an attractive vessel for John McCain’s tired talking points, shouldn’t socially conservative voters desert the ticket en masse? To me, the Palin pick says that John McCain doesn’t give a damn about his base. He thinks social conservatives can be bought off with a pretty face, a neat biography, and empty platitudes about smearing lipstick on a polar bear (or something). Does anyone honestly think that Palin will exert real influence within a McCain Administration? I’m sure she’ll be trotted out periodically to appease the base, but after this debacle, no one of consequence is going to take her seriously.