Palinism’s last stand

Politicians from Sacramento to Washington think Americans are stupid. It’s time to prove them wrong.

Illustration By robert armstrong

Fun fact: Sarah Palin’s first son, Track Palin, was born on April 20, 1989, the 100th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth. Not that it means anything.

My senior economic adviser and I have an ongoing debate concerning the intelligence of the American public. He’s convinced most Americans are dumber than posts, and points to the recent hoopla surrounding Sen. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for his running mate as the latest evidence validating his theory.

I remain unconvinced. It’s not that Americans are stupid. I think most Americans are too damn busy making ends meet to cut through the crap they’re force-fed 24-seven by politicians and the mainstream media, the latter being the most sophisticated apparatus for disseminating disinformation and propaganda the world has ever known.

We might call this systematic melding of politics and media Palinism, in honor of the candidate who this election season best represents the low esteem politicians of both major parties hold for the American people, particularly swing voters residing in suburban and rural communities.

In Palin, who yearned to be a TV news anchor before becoming governor of Alaska, Republicans have found the perfect tool for propagating the conservative base’s stalwart hot-button issues: God, Abortion, Gays and Guns.

Call it the GAGG reflex. Since Pat Buchanan (the prototypical politico-journo hybrid) touched off the cultural war in 1990, Republicans have appealed to and reinforced Middle America’s lowest impulses. Democrats have followed suit. Witness Sen. Hillary Clinton slugging down shots of whiskey and touting her hunting prowess or Sen. Barack Obama’s ongoing gay-marriage tap dance.

Because Republicans have achieved recent electoral success employing the strategy, some observers have concluded that average Americans care more about religious issues, abortion rights, gay rights and the Second Amendment than, say, their own self-interest. In other words, Americans are so stupid, they violate en masse one of classical economics’ most basic tenets.

A more astute analysis reveals the duplicity of the electoral process. The folks in the suburbs and the foothills believe that local, state and federal government shouldn’t play an active role in everyday economic life, because that’s what they’ve been told repeatedly by both political parties for the past 30 years, as virtually every regulation enacted to protect average Americans since the Great Depression was rescinded.

Rather than meaningful economic discussion, candidates promise simple solutions to complex problems that are so completely disingenuous they amount to bald-faced lies. You’ll find no better example of this locally than the race between Sen. Tom McClintock and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown to replace the 4th Congressional District seat being vacated by scandal-plagued John Doolittle.

Both McClintock, a conservative Republican, and Brown, a moderate Democrat opposed to the Iraq war, promise to make America “energy independent” if elected. In fact, even as the global economy crashes and burns, the high price of gasoline is the only economic issue of any prominence discussed on either campaign’s Web site.

McClintock promises to make America energy independent by lifting the ban on drilling for oil offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Brown promises to make America energy independent by increasing the use of renewable energy sources. Both men are either stupider than they presume voters to be or lying through their teeth.

Here’s why. The United States imports 65 percent of its oil. You could suck up every last drop that’s left offshore and in Alaska, and we’ll still be dependent on oil from the Middle East. A massive investment in renewable-energy infrastructure—far in excess of Brown’s modest proposal—would still not make America energy independent. And needless to say, neither proposal will do a damn thing to lower short-term gasoline prices, the phony carrot both candidates are holding out to voters.

A more honest approach to becoming less dependent on energy imports might call for some sort of personal sacrifice on behalf of the electorate. Instead, the McClintock/Brown race has devolved into an idiotic debate about whether Brown, who first gained political traction by voicing opposition to the Iraq war, was in full military dress at a 2005 Sacramento peace demonstration. Brown’s hairsplitting has only demonstrated that he’s as much of a Palinist as his opponent.

Two weeks ago, I wrongly predicted Sarah Palin would be dropped from the McCain ticket before the Republican National Convention ended. Nevertheless, I maintain that playing Americans for rubes has mortally wounded the McCain campaign. As this is being written, her approval numbers are dropping dramatically, and Obama is back up in the national polls. Critics are calling Palin the most inexperienced vice-presidential pick in U.S. history.

That’s going to be crucial down the stretch, as the wheels continue to fall off the economy. The era of unfettered global capitalism is coming to an end with a crash of unprecedented dimensions. The American people may not understand the intricacies of the bipartisan policies that have buried the country under a mountain of debt, but they sure as hell know it’s going to take someone with intelligence and experience to dig us out. No one can honestly believe Sarah Palin is that person. Americans may be stupid, but they’re not that stupid.