Aside from an occasional jab or two, I have steered clear of commenting on Sarah Palin. I recognize the futility of discussing a totemic figure for a certain mindset of her reflexive defenders and devoted followers of a certain political persuasion. Once this cult figure becomes the subject of discussion, rational discourse between those who regard her as a political saint and those who do not comes to an end. The latter, at least, begin with facts available in the media, less the analysis than the audio-visual evidence of Palin’s words.
I am not going to slog through all the stuff about her family life and the disconnect between her moral pretensions, and her and her family’s performance. Nor am I going to rehearse all the allegations about ethical lapses and criminal conduct in office. The tabloids and the talking heads have done that work in mind-numbing detail.
What strikes me is that Palin’s only response to this steady stream of discreditable information has been to attack those, Republicans as well as Democrats, who raise such matters. Since news of her miscues and misconduct comes to us through the mainstream media, her invariable response is to attack the “lamestream” media and its motives. The pattern of her responses is an absolutely narcissistic dualism of accountability: it is never her fault but always theirs—whoever they may be. So it is long since time to ask about her promptings.
The important facts about Sarah Palin are her humble origins and haphazard education. She recognizes that many people have less humble origins and more focused educations; she knows that most fellow politicians and practicing journalists are better off in social status and education than she. Out of her sense of inferiority arises her ever-ready resentment toward or hostility to those whom she perceives as condescending and presumptuous in criticizing or disagreeing with her views or opposing her positions. Whatever they offer not to her liking she takes as insult or attack, and responds in kind.
I grant that many people accept her slogans about “real Americans,” lower taxes, small government, “drill, baby, drill,” “death panels,” and the like as readily as they accept the same slogans offered by others. I also grant that Palin is not special by virtue of the appeal of her resentments, which resonate with the similar resentments of many of her followers. For resentment at the better born or the better educated is as American as apple pie. The lexicon of resentment at “Boston Brahmins,” preppies, the “Eastern Establishment,” “limousine liberals,” “eggheads,” and “pointy-headed liberals” is a rich one of long standing. (Am I alone in noting that no one accuses conservatives of being smart and that they seem to do their best to avoid the accusation?)
What sets Palin apart is her disregard of the facts of her performance. As John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate, she summed up her energy policy in the rousing phrase, “drill, baby, drill.” In later remarks extended by several sentences, she specifically included off-shore drilling as well as on-shore drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She claimed that both sitings were safe and environmental. Now, in response to mockery of that phrase in light of the fatal explosion and oil leak known as Deepwater Horizon, she declares that she did not support off-short drilling. She lied then, but she also lies now. For drilling on Alaska’s North Shore and piping oil across the state to port facilities have cost lives and caused spills. The casualties, contamination, and other consequences have been smaller, less costly, and less publicized, but they have not been negligible.
Palin is neither the First Liar in politics nor even a very good one. But she is one of the rare politicians who gets caught in a big lie at an important time and denies it with another. While busy rebutting criticism by rewriting history and by attacking critics and, of course, Obama, she, who claims oil-industry expertise, has had not one word of suggestion for dealing with the BP-instigated disaster. More notably, she has had not one word of sympathy for the people affected, their livelihoods destroyed, and the way of life threatened—and these people have supported her. Some may now recall that during the presidential campaign, during the economic meltdown, she also had nothing to say in sympathy for those losing their homes, their jobs, or both.
By comparison to other politicians, Palin is a sociopath, a person with a personality disorder characterized by a lack of conscience and compassion. Her history is one of ambition, opportunism, self-promotion, hypocrisy, dishonesty, disloyalty to peers and betrayal of friends, and resentment at or hostility toward anyone who judges, criticizes, or opposes her. She who holds herself to be believed and obeyed brooks no dissent or disregard. So do not expect her to show any concern for anyone but herself or anything outside herself, off-shore, on-shore, in office, or out.