Monday, August 03, 2009

Sarah Palin and rightwing demagoguery

Juan Cole compares two famous politicians in Sarah Palin, meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Salon 08/03/09. He compares the style of the two politicians as examples of rightwing populism.

I tend to avoid the term "populism" for a couple of reasons. One is that the American press has made it such a broad term, it's often used in meaningless ways. Our celebrity press seems to think that it means any appeal by a politician that might discomfort some corporate CEO in any way. The other is that in Europe, "populism" tends to be understood as a political phenomenon of the right. The meaning has come a long way from William Jennings Bryan and the Populist Party of over a century ago.

Still, I like the article particularly for its warning that people shouldn't be complacent about the potential of rightwing demagoguery like Palin's:

Right-wing populism, rooted in the religion, culture and aspirations of the lower middle class, is often caricatured as insane by its critics. That judgment is unfair. But it is true that such movements often encourage a political style of exhibitionism, disregard for the facts as understood by the mainstream media, and exaltation of the values of people who feel themselves marginalized by the political system. Not all forms of protest, however, are healthy, even if the protesters have legitimate grievances. Right-wing populism is centered on a theory of media conspiracy, a "my country right or wrong" chauvinism, a fascination with an armed citizenry, an intolerance of dissent and a willingness to declare political opponents mere terrorists. It is cavalier in its disregard of elementary facts and arrogant about the self-evident rightness of its religious and political doctrines. It therefore holds dangers both for the country in which it grows up and for the international community. Palin is polling well at the moment against other Republican front-runners such as Mitt Romney, and so, astonishingly, is a plausible future president. At least Iranians only got Ahmadinejad because of rigged elections, and they had the decency to mount massive protests against the result. [my emphasis]

No conspiracy could be so inept as to produce what we have as a national political press today in the US. But the low quality of journalism produced by our celebrity reporters and pundits is facilitating Palin's appeal to her base by treating her as a throwaway comedy item and not reporting on the darker aspects of her political and religious extremism.

The Washington Post is excerpting the campaign book by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson. Today's piece, 'High Risk, High Reward' is on McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate in 2008. The excerpt is typical horse-race journalism, dripping with admiration for the great integrity of the bold Maverick McCain. We get a mention of "Troopergate" and Bristol Palin's pregnancy. But virtually no information about what she did as Governor or why the hard right found her so appealing. Much less anything about her neo-Confederate sympathies or her crackpot, authoritarian religious affiliations.

Maybe tomorrow's installment will get into that a bit more. Today's devoted too much space to the Great McCain's boldness and maverickness to get into that other stuff.

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