Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Skip the diary but don't miss the video. This Kos diary has an absolutely jaw droppingly powerful set of interviews with the people waiting online to get their copy of Palin's book signed. Its nothing you don't know already, in a sense, but the interviewer is so skillful and so non-judgmental that he really gets people to delve deeply into what they think they are buying when they are buying what Palin is selling. The whole video is worth watching, even if (like me!) you don't have time for this kind of viewing while also trying to get Thanksgiving ready. The takeaway point of the video is that people regard Sarah Palin as an iconic representation of a lost American world: a world of whiteness, of safety, of maternity, of strength, of low spending, of autonomy, of greatness ("America first, everyone else last"). When pushed to say if they think she should be President many say yes, but its clearly more aspirational than expected. Many say it as though they would like it, but don't think she can be elected (after all, you can't win representing a lost America since that America that wants you is, by definition, no longer existent.) One man explains helpfully that because Obama is going to legalize all the illegals there won't enough white votes for Palin. Others target the Republican Party itself as standing in her way.

What struck me most is the rediscovery that for many people in America-if that line is representative of Americans generally--the very idea of an "issue" or a "policy question" is foreign. That's not what politics is. Its not the search to implement any particular policy. Its a question of vision, of mythology, of tribal, totemic identification with (or rejection of) an idea of the country and of one's self. All that other stuff--what Palin would do about health care, or cap and trade, or immigration, or China--eventually produces only "In what respect...Charlie?" or in the words of Palin's response to Couric "I'll go out and I'll get 'em for ya."

I'm not trying to make fun of these people. I thought the interviewer did an incredibly sympathetic job of letting people work towards talking about things they thought were important and giving them all the time they needed. And I don't think its easy to give an interview at all--and these people weren't professionals. But what struck me was that they moved, like Palin, from a very smug moment of self satisfaction at the start of the interview to an almost painful puzzlement as the interviewer kept trying to let them express themselves. If you watch the video lots of people were prepared with a first sound bite "she stands for America!" "She makes me proud to be a woman!" That was like the moment in Palin's interviews when she knew she'd handled the softball questions well. But as the interviewer didn't end the interview but instead asked for more detail the interviewee begins to get nervous. They have to explain some things that they had taken for granted. The very question seems to challenge them. As they start to talk more, and find themselves giving an impromptu lecture to this helpful student they find that they don't have the faintest idea what to offer to back up their gut feeling. Some of them become puzzled, others apologetic, others excitable. That's because the interviewer is forcing them to think rationally, programmaticaly, and coherently about something that was really totally amorphous and emotional. Its like asking someone just before they get engaged "no, but really, have you ever thought about your fiancee's views on the moon landing? What does she know about astro-physics, anyway?" The questions just seem beside the point, and then frightening.


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