“A philosopher is recognized by the fact that he shuns three brilliant and noisy things–fame, princes, and women: which is not to say that they do not come to him.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche / On the Genealogy of Morals
When I examine today’s political climate and the diverse array of political leaders in the eye of the media and the mind of the public one individual stands out as the most talked about and most caricatured member. That individual is former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. Ever since her ascension to the fore of the collective conscience in the presidential campaign of 2008 she has been the subject of much ridicule, the object of much praise, and the butt of many jokes.
But since her appearance in the media spotlight and cultural circles I have yet to hear a principled critique on what Sarah Palin represents for the GOP and why the right wing has gravitated toward her with such blind admiration and enthusiasm. The simple answer to this question would be to deride her followers as unthinking sheep receptive of any argument that arouses their emotions and deep seated fears. While this answer does have some validity in a superficial sense it does not unearth the ideological and psychological presuppositions which underlie such adulation. For this reason, it is the job of those who are seriously concerned about the cultural shifts in contemporary political leadership to ask these types of questions.
In order to illuminate the ideological character of Sarah Palin’s political base I must make recourse to a historical parallel which bears many of the same marks as the topic under examination. Approximately twenty years ago, in 1989, the Czech Republic was in a state of internal unrest. Authoritarian governments ravaged the population with bureaucratic institutions and arbitrary police force. This string of injustice sparked a series of non-violent protests which eventually came to be known as the Velvet Revolution. Throngs of Czechs crowded the streets in protest of the exploitation and degradation emanating from the offices of Communist Party. Alexander Dubcek, former chairman of the Czecho-Slovak parliament, rose to the helm of the resistance forces and coined the term which embodied the true aspirations of those millions of people who felt obligated to join the cause: “socialism with a human face”.
Unlike like the bureaucratic industrialism that socialism came to be synonymous with under the rule of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, this new brand of socialism was to be one which conformed with the ideals of it’s theorists and not those of self-interested politicians. This was to be a socialism which concentrated political power in the hands of the individuals who manufactured the product and not those who manipulated it through accumulation of capital. Generally speaking, the Fall of 1989 was a moment in history where you had a revolution that attempted to reshape the institution of socialism by depriving it of the substance that had then became its most definitive feature; namely, bureaucratic industrialism.
This same phenomenon runs rampant in today’s society in our attempt to create “capitalism with a human face”. Take for example, you purchase a cup of coffee from Starbucks and you are informed by the cashier that 5% of your money will be donated to help underprivileged children in Haiti. This information gives you a warm feeling inside because your purchase, in addition to satisfying your need for caffeine, has a philanthropic dimension by helping disadvantaged children thousands of miles away. Nonetheless, you fail to be cognizant of the fact that your purchase of the coffee contributes to the capitalistic enterprise which is largely responsible for the endemic poverty in Haiti, an enterprise that the charitable donation was supposed to counter. As a result, you have charity acting as a mechanism by which the buyer can acquiesce the guilt that comes with participating in the capitalist system. Again you have a system trying to function by depriving itself of its own substance.
Likewise, it is my proposal that the adulation that the right wing shows for Sarah Palin is nothing other than “misogyny with a human face”. One of the central tenants of all misogynistic doctrines is the idea that women should remain outside the political sphere and their domain should not go beyond that of the household. Essentially, this doctrine holds fast that the woman’s status shall be none other than that of a caretaker or a child bearer. With this being said, the Republican party has developed a way to employ their misogynistic agenda under the guise of progress. And what better way to deflect any accusations of misogyny than to deliver the leadership of the Republican party to an individual who embodies all that sexism has to offer as an ideology. In one of my previous essays titled “On the Education of Women” I described Sarah Palin as a “Wasilla beauty queen who represents nothing more than the chauvinist’s daydream”. Aside from being a somewhat colorful description of Mrs. Palin, this statement accurately reflects the media’s portrayal of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin does not appear unintelligent because she genuinely is unintelligent, Sarah Palin appears unintelligent because if she were to appear in any other manner it would threaten the very foundations of not only right wing ideology but American ideology as a whole. The convenient juxtaposition that Sarah Palin presents is the juxtaposition between the illusion of the empowered women and the caricature of a caretaking, child-bearing women.
Republicans (specifically men) love Sarah Palin because she absolves them of the guilt of their own misogynistic conceptions of womanhood while at the same time reinforcing those conceptions through her image as presented by the media. Like capitalism with charity and socialism with popular sovereignty, Sarah Palin with political power provides the psychological catharsis of those objects which are adored because of the simple fact that they are deprived of their substance. She is “misogyny with a human face”. Republican’s are willing to let a woman take the lead of their Party insofar as she perpetuates the vicious ideologies that has undermined the progression of women since the ages of the Greeks. And what better way to make a misogynistic ideology more palatable than to have it spill forth not from the permanent scowl of an insecure man but from the painted lips of a beautiful woman? Like Nietzsche’s remark at the beginning of this essay, he does not genuinely think that women are “brilliant”. This decision to use the term “brilliant” is nothing more than a futile attempt to rid himself of the guilt which accompanies his sexist notion of women as “noisy things”. Just imagine Mrs. Palin ascending the lectern speaking out for the women’s rights, imagine her supporting universal healthcare , imagine her championing noble causes like education and economic justice. Then again, imagine at your own risk because thoughts of this kind might be just a bit too substantive.