Monday, July 06, 2009

What The Right Means When They Say "America"

Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a superb reply to the Ross Douthat column on Sarah Palin in the NYTimes.

A few prime quotes from the Douthat column:
Either way, though, her 10 months on the national stage have been a dispiriting period for American democracy.

If Palin were exactly what her critics believe she is — the distillation of every right-wing pathology, from anti-intellectualism to apocalyptic Christianity — then she wouldn’t be a terribly interesting figure. But this caricature has always missed the point of the Alaska governor’s appeal — one that extends well outside the Republican Party’s shrinking base.

In a recent Pew poll, 44 percent of Americans regarded Palin unfavorably. But slightly more had a favorable impression of her. That number included 46 percent of independents, and 48 percent of Americans without a college education.

That last statistic is a crucial one. Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

This ideal has had a tough 10 months. It’s been tarnished by Palin herself, obviously. With her missteps, scandals, dreadful interviews and self-pitying monologues, she’s botched an essential democratic role — the ordinary citizen who takes on the elites, the up-by-your-bootstraps role embodied by politicians from Andrew Jackson down to Harry Truman.

But it’s also been tarnished by the elites themselves, in the way that the media and political establishments have treated her.

Think about that for a minute.

Here is part of Ta-Nehisi's wonderful column:

What The Right Means When They Say "America"
06 Jul 2009 12:35 pm

UPDATE: Several posters have pointed out the distinction between the meritocratic and democratic ideal. I have conflated the two, and thus portions of this are wrong. Having thought on that fact though, I still can't bring myself to see Palin is one or Obama as the other. Perhaps this is my color barrier, but the promise of more "democratic" America never meant, to me, black people, their actual knowledge of the world be damned. It meant a fair shot.

That said, Ross is owed an apology--conflating the two changes the meaning. There is more here. But I want to think on it some more.

There is in this critique, a kind of Al Sharpton analysis--Sarah Palin as a stand-in for all of her social class. Ross contends that her failures are not her own, but somehow the failures that would afflict anyone else presumably from her "social class." But this only works if you think that most of working class America is as fucking inept as Sarah Palin.

There is more to be said about that, but I'd like to move to something more important--that being Ross's definition of "Anyone."

In the last ten months, we've seen the son of a single mother, son of an immigrant, roots in Kansas, roots in the quintessentially American South Side of Chicago, standing for the "traditional values" of family, and the lesson we take from this is is that American meritocracy is broken.

Conservative condescension toward working class America, works in tandem with racial blindness. I have tried, through a few re-readings, to avoid seeing that in Ross's column. But it's very difficult to process the notion that Sarah Palin is a better model of the all-American meritocratic ideal than Barack Obama, without believing that that judgment hinges on race.

My black readers are laughing at me. Again.

The entire column is at the link above.

This is my reply to Coates:

Coates, this is superb, and yes, for a minute, I laughed at you.

Douthat just takes over from where his fellow conservative pointed out a month or so ago: you know, if you ignore Black folks, then Obama's popularity ratings aren't that high at all.

we go back to that 'REAL ' America ' meme'.

it is because you're Black, Coates. Coming from a people that, in their history, were KILLED because they tried to learn how to READ, despite 'White folks stereotypes', you and I both know about the importance of education to the general Black community (excluding the Underclass).

being from a population with no inherited wealth, the only way Black folks knew how to ' pull themselves up by their bootstraps', was to get themselves a pair of boots, which has always meant EDUCATION, for those of us who knew we'd never make it in entertainment or sports.

THAT is why Palin's ignorance is so offensive to you, Coates. She stands against what your father taught you.

For my grandmother and her daughters, an education meant that the only children they'd have to take care of were THEIR OWN.

For my father, it meant no sharecropping.

My family isn't odd or extraordinary, it's what millions of Black folks saw as their path in America.
Because you know your history, and you know Black folks' history, Palin's ignorance punches you in the gut, and anyone pushing forth this woman as someone to admire, you have to give the side eye.

1 comment:

The Angry Independent said...

Well stated.

There are definitely 2 different views on the meaning of "America" and "Americans", with Conservatives having one view and the rest of us having a different perspective.

They have been dog-whistling their message since the Primary campaigns started.

Palin will now play victim...

But I never understood why Republicans ever believed that she was a good choice for them. (I think most have since come to their senses). Her appeal, although it seems wide at times, is actually fairly narrow.

Republicans shot themselves in the foot with Palin. This may have been the long awaited...long overdue final result, to what was a bad chess move by McCain.

I often think to myself... if he wanted to get the female vote... (which it appears he was trying to benefit from the Clinton/Obama feuding)... that he should have gone with heavyweights like Snowe, Collins, Hutchinson, Dole, or someone along those lines. His choice of Palin was just mind boggling. Would he have won with these other women? Probably not.... because the economic crisis had trumped everything else in late 2008... but the vote may have been closer. It would have been very close if you take the economic crisis out of the picture. McCain had been leading Obama...for days/weeks before the crisis. Palin was definitely a drag on McCain's lead in the polls after the GOP Convention. First they tried to roll her out to the media like a Hollywood production.... then they decided to hide her after a few mediocre TV appearances. That strategy backfired. And ultimately they also paid the price for not vetting her.... which takes me back to all the other GOP female choices they could have gone with. McCain tried to play to the base too much...and the cost was severe. He should have played to the middle...and the base would have come along. He could have gotten away with choosing Snowe (a moderate) or a Hutchinson. The alternative for Republicans (Obama/Biden) would have been unacceptable and McCain would have gotten support in the end. He obviously received some bad advice during that whole process.