Okay, so the guy is interviewing Sarah Palin fans outside of one of her book signings, and asking them about which of her positions on what specific political issues they support. Here's how they respond:
Get it? The punchline is that they're almost totally uninformed about any issues, any platforms, or any particular programs. And, in general, what they do seem to know is either easy slogans or incorrect facts. Haw, haw! What a bunch of rubes! Excuse me for asking, but the point here being?
Well, the point apparently is to make fun of these people. And, I'm not saying that they shouldn't be better informed. But it seems to me that you could do this with the hard core fans of any major public figure. Why, in fact, you could probably do it with supporters of, say, Barack Obama:
But, again, what exactly is accomplished here? Basically, people who voted for Obama can watch the interviews with the most clueless Palin supporters, make fun of them, and feel superior. People who voted for John McCain can watch interviews with the most clueless Obama supporters, make fun of them and feel superior. Forget about trying to persuade other people of the rightness of your positions on various topics- or trying to understand their perspective; that's what politics is all about, and this is more like a club, a tribe, or a team. It's cliques really.
Now, I don't really care about Sarah Palin; I don't really care about Barack Obama either. In terms of politics, I look at what the political organizations hope to accomplish, decide how I feel about that, and am not interested at all in "looking into the soul" of the candidate. But, I have some idea why these people (and half my family) like Sarah Palin, which makes me especially uncomfortable with making fun of them.
Let's look at that huge class in America that could be roughly defined as middle/working class. They do things like drive buses, work in retail stores, build houses, pave roads, manage small businesses, fix cars, work in IT, drive trucks, and so forth. Basically, just about everybody in the country, right? Economically, we call them middle class, but many of them are struggling towards the lower end of that income bracket. Because, what's happened over the last three or four decades is that middle income jobs have not seen a real increase in wages, while prices in everything have risen. Which means that those people are struggling, week by week, to get by. That requires a great deal of savvy, intelligence, and perseverance. It doesn't leave a lot of time to study political science.
Meanwhile, in that time, no political figure has really done anything to improve those people's lot. At one time, liberals in the United States were politically tied to the working class. However, they have become alienated from the "hard hats". People like to blame this on "the 60s"; however, it really came earlier with the McCarthy era. It's not that liberals were communists, of course, but many of them were sympathetic to socialism and found the public hysteria terrifying. McCarthyism isn't really so easily categorized as "right wing", since Truman started the business with the loyalty oaths. But, it had the effect of convincing a lot of liberals that middle class people were the "boobsoisie" in Mencken's term. See also: Archie Bunker, the "establishment", "Joe Six Pack", "Joe Lunch pail", et cetera. The Other. In the 60s, as we all know, the cultural split widened.
Many working class people, of course, hate the rich. The real accomplishment of the Republicans was to capitalize off of that resentment by directing it towards more vaguely defined "cultural elites". Not so much the capitalist class as the ivory tower academics. Middle American resentment towards liberals, meanwhile, wasn't entirely wrong. Liberals didn't fully deserve it, but they did in fact define themselves, quite often, as being at odds with the average middle American, somehow more enlightened or "educated", and even a bit resentful towards American culture. The real accomplishment of Obama, therefore, was to ignite long dormant left-wing patriotism, something Bill Clinton could not do. It was a short-lived accomplishment.
Now Reagan was a snake oil salesman. But, this doesn't change the fact that liberals still hope to change a culture that they still have some lingering resentment towards. Certainly, that resentment is not always wrong- for example, it was right to detest middle American racism. But, often it amounts to a sort of cultural snobbishness- writing off housewives as "unfulfilled", rejecting faith as "bigotry", making higher degrees the sole marker of intelligence, and so forth. There's a tendency to talk down to people instead of talking to them. After all, they're "backwards" and "uneducated".
But, one thing I've learned in a decade in higher ed is that academics simply have one specific intelligence out of many. It has nothing to do with smarts.- I simply like to read old books and documents in foreign languages a lot more than other people do. It's got nothing more to do with intelligence than being a baseball card collector. Sure, I have some training, but so what? Lots of people have training.
Do you have any idea how much you have to know to drive a truck? Not only do you have to know how to operate the vehicle; you also have to maintain the truck, which includes doing regular inspections and repairs. You have to know all of the parts of the engine to make sure they're in good shape before you actually hit the road. The book you have to learn in order to get the CDL is, therefore, about as thick as a Bible, and this doesn't get into learning what sounds, smells, and sensations mean engine trouble. My point here is that being a truck driver requires a specific intelligence. Just as being a homemaker requires a specific intelligence. As installing plumbing requires a specific intelligence. Actually, they all require a host of intellgences- a skill set. Working people are many things; but "uneducated" is not one of them.
Nevertheless, many of them feel and resent being looked down upon by the larger culture. Now, sometimes they are patronized and sometimes they aren't. I know many academics who have a deep respect for working people, in their life and scholarship. And the media really presents a fairly mixed image of these people, simultaneously trying to sell products to small town working Americans, and telling stories that are primarily about urban white collar Americans. Politicians, meanwhile, flatter and cajole middle Americans, while doing nothing for them.
What I think working people (including half my family) respond to in Sarah Palin is the sense that she comes from a similar background and can relate to their concerns and their lives. They describe her as "genuine" and "one of us". Are they right? Probably no more than progressives who see Obama as an urbane champion of progressive causes. But the underlying hope- that someone will represent those people who have reason to feel ignored and disdained- is very real, and very understandable.
Now, I don't want to oversell these people, just because I'm from that background. Many of my family members, old friends, and former co-workers can be overly resentful and defensive about things that most people don't really care about. (I also get the "we must save Christmas!" emails!) And some of them are painfully self-aggrandizing about their lives; and really convinced that people in the cities are The Other. I have a relative who will strongly defend his right to eat at McDonald's in the face of an imagined overwhelming anti-McDonald's prejudice, for example. Let's just say that I've known plenty of people in middle America who are especially enamored with the smell of their own farts. Just like everywhere else really.
And, just like the people who make these videos! The underlying message to these things is "People with a different take on the world have an illegitimate viewpoint". I agree that most people should be a lot better informed than they are, but the aim here isn't to inform; it's to democratize contempt. The main reason I quit watching television a few years ago was that I got sick of reality programs whose message is "Hey, look at how dumb these people are!" broadcast to alienated and atomized consumers in their tiny cocoons. I see a lot of the same contempt on the Internet.
I'm starting to feel like I've absorbed toxic levels of it.
Terrence famously wrote: "Homo sum; humanī nil ā mē alienum putō."
Roughly: "I am a man; I reckon nothing human is alien to me." (My mediocre translation.)
I'm not at the point in which I can say the same. And I'm not sure any of the communications media are getting me any closer to that point. It's hard to understand where other people are coming from anyway. But there's a dangerous delusion in convincing yourself that, wherever they're coming from, it's probably a lot lower down than your elevated vantage point.