the anti-intellectualism of Sarah Palin

Columnists like Maureen Dowd and a host of comics have had a field-day with Palin’s mangled syntax and rambling responses to specific questions.  The more serious issue involves an approach in current politics to reason and argument that her debate performance symbolized.  According to Wesleyan University’s Elvin Lim, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (10/3/08):

“When presidents or candidates dumb down or oversimplify, they are essentially employing a rather insidious method of argumentation…’Never mind what I am saying, but know that you can trust me because I am like you.  And because I mimic you, I must therefore be for you.'”

The media’s role in this, according to Lim, is to encourage this tendency, seeking mistakes, drama and punchlines, which serve to pre-empt debate, deliberation, and reasoning (in short, anti-intellectualism).

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10 Responses to “the anti-intellectualism of Sarah Palin”

  1. Chloe Says:

    However, how does the public make the distinction between Palin (or any of the candidates for the matter) “dumbing down” the issues to try to relate to the stereotype of the masses vs not actually knowledgeable of the policies?

  2. Sabrina Rodriguez Says:

    I don’t think Palin was using her “dumbing down” of answers as a way to connect, rather I think that’s just how she speaks.

  3. Melissa Ayala Says:

    After having viewed numerous televised interviews with Sarah Palin, I believe it is apparent that her campaign is relying on her to emphasize how she “is similar to American people” over other candidates. Her pattern in speaking and tendency to make mistakes comes across as the campaigns deliberate mentality for Americans to vote for her party because she is “like us.” Some may see it as a more human appeal to a politician, relating to her, and cast a vote for her party. However, that mentality may also backfire. The public may get a different impression and believe that she does not think we have the capacity to understand an average politician and need comments simplified. Or, it may come across that she does not understand what she is saying herself, resulting in the rambling and could create doubt in voter’s minds as to how qualified she is in that area and if she indeed does know what she is talking about. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Sarah Palin’s mistakes have been and will continue to be under close scrutiny.

  4. Arti Bhatia Says:

    Although I agree with Lim’s description of the political strategy of oversimplifying issues, I do not completely agree with Lim’s opinion on the media’s role. Arguably, the presentation of issues is significant in terms of understanding the issues themselves. Arguably, a candidate that can reference previous policy options or outline future policy options is often appealing to voters as they seem “educated”. As Dowd’s article explains, the language used sometimes lacks content and simply implies that “actions” can be done to deal with “issues” and their “impacts.” Ideally, politicians express the lure of their ticket in terms of their platforms and balance the ideal strategy with presentation. The analysis of oversimplified language, although sometimes comedic, sheds light on the fact that the ideal way of gaining votes is often lost behind the language.

  5. Laura Cole Says:

    Lim is absolutely right. As clumsy or anti-intellectual as Palin may seem in debate or interviews, it isn’t necessarily working against her. While I’m personally very “turned off” by her manner, a lot of people, I’m sure, feel that she’s someone they can relate to because of it. It’s rhetoric–she’s reaching a target audience.

    It doesn’t matter to some people, likely the people she’s trying to appeal to, exactly what she’s saying, but more how she says it. Many times she has trouble addressing the issues in a direct and specific manner, but a lot of people I’ve heard who support Palin have not commented on how well she addresses the issues, but instead that she seems like a “tough chick” or that she’s “really down to earth.” Is this really what we should seek in a candidate?

    I think that the media should help people understand the issues, but it shouldn’t have to dumb every detail down. And politicians certainly shouldn’t have to speak in more common terms–as Palin has–to gain support. I was far more impressed by Biden’s “intellectual” dialogue than Palin’s “dumbing down.” Palin didn’t make anything more clear by using such language, either.

  6. Erica Handelman Says:

    Sometimes I worry that in attempting to relate to Average Joe ( Jane?), Sarah Palin has aimed too low. Her style of speech is unintelligible if not downright obnoxious, and whatever political insight she has (if she has any) remains as mysterious as her grammar. The mystique has its own appeal, sort of like guessing how exactly Bush was going to handle the war based on his vague declarations. Hopefully, we realize enough time has been wasted on mystery solutions to foreign relations and the economy.
    On the other hand, I listen to Barack Obama open his statements with admissions that his opponent has made a valid claim, much in the style of philosophical argumentation. To me, his claims have more validity because he incorporates both sides of the argument, instead of appearing deaf to contrary ideas. Whether “likable still trump[s] knowledgeable” is debatable. Thankfully, writers like Dowd emphasize the importance of electing knowledgeable leaders who aren’t afraid to appear elitist.

  7. Eric Weiss Says:

    During the vice presidential debate, which was the most watched debate in history, i noticed some striking characteristics about both nominees. Palin, as the comment by Elvin Lim says, does talk with a rhetoric that is much less complex than Biden. This, in some ways does diminish her credibility, but the way she makes up for it is personality. Biden’s monotone, no smile approach to the debate made him a much less appealing prospect, even though he has more Washington experience than Palin. I believe that the media does point out the flaws in Palin’s lack of real knowledge of Washington, but as post-debate analysts said, they liked how much more congenial she was than the no non-sense Biden. I think America wants someone who will present themselves better to the world and be willing to learn from theirs’ and other’s mistakes, not one who feels they have all the experience and answers necessary to run the show.

  8. sdreese Says:

    from lynda gonzalez: “Palin, by contrast, uses a heck of a lot of language to praise herself as a fresh face with new ideas who has “joined this team that is a team of mavericks.” True mavericks don’t brand themselves.”

    This discreetly ties in with the article I examined for assignment one: David Brooks on “Why Experience Matters.” He discussed the argument over Palin’s qualifications for vice-president, and a major portion of the article discusses her appeal to the “populist strain” — the common-sense folk that favor simplicity in their leaders. Palin’s lack of eloquence should not be in her favor to rally popularity among “regular-folk.” However, as Brooks mentions, there is a more important factor in Palin’s qualifications that goes beyond speech or her touch with grass-roots America, and this factor is prudence.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/opinion/16brooks.html?scp=7=david%20brooks%20palin=cse

  9. Ben Freed Says:

    To me the central question here is whether you think that in a moment of crisis, folksy appeal and the ability to be a maverick will lead our country through it. If John McCain were elected and (heaven forbid) something should happen to him that would cause Palin to take over as President, would her folksy brand of “issue-less” politics be able to run the country. I find the most disturbing part of Lim’s “like me because I’m like you” logic is that I am disturbed that people seem to think that “someone like them” can run this country. If someone who I indeed thought was “just like me” was running for president, I wouldn’t vote for them in a million years. It takes some who has more knowledge than I do and the ability to solve the crucial problems that face out country that I want in the White House. Not someone who is “just like me.”

  10. Chris Giles Says:

    I agree with the comments of Ben Freed above. I’m often baffled by the the tendency of candidates (Not just Palin, although she is a perfect example; I’m speaking of candidates in general) to attempt to appeal to the average American, or to use Palin’s words, the “Joe-six-packs and Hockey-moms” of the country by dumbing-down their rhetoric or pursuing some form of anti-intellectualism.

    When I’m deciding on whom to cast my vote for, I’m interested in nothing but why a certain candidate can prove his or her intelligence, eloquence, and experience. I don’t want candidates to explain why they are so much like me – to reiterate Ben Freed’s point above – I want the candidates to successfully prove that they are *better* than me in every way. Our president should be smarter than us, wiser than us, and better suited to make decisions that will effectively lead us.

    I can appreciate a candidate’s need to identify with his or her constituency, but this can be done without any notions of dumbing-down their speech or showing that we are no different from them.

    Don’t be like me. Be better than me.

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