Has there been a more polarizing figure in American politics in the last few generations than Sarah Palin? In the last 30 or 40 years, there has certainly been no shortage:

Barry Goldwater, who wanted to lead us into nuclear war;
Lyndon Johnson, who single-handedly expanded Government entitlements to the point of bloated no-return;
Richard Nixon, who disgraced the Presidency;
Jimmy Carter, who raised incompetency to a fine art form;
Ronald Reagan, an amiable dunce who lucked into all his successes;
Bill Clinton, who personified lying and personal untrustworthiness;
Newt Gingrich, the shifty, stick-it-to-the-little-guy conservative fat cat;
George W. Bush, whose inability to speak intelligibly should have disqualified him from the County Commissioner’s office, much less the Presidency;
Al Gore, the pompous, self-aggrandizing, insincere opportunist;
Hillary Clinton, the ruthless, conniving, duplicitous shrew;
Barack Obama, the Socialist, Muslim-in-disguise, taxer-in-Chief

While most of the current major national figures of both parties elicit more than their fair share of vitriol and wildly histrionic criticism, none seems capable of challenging Mrs. Palin for the top spot.

Even those in her own party are relentless in their opprobrium. Respected conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker and Peggy Noonan have been unbendingly negative in their comments.

From Noonan’s 11/5/10 WSJ column:

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin…..

The point is not “He [Reagan] was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true….

Palin brings out more visceral, deeply-rooted, emotional reaction than almost any politician/national figure in memory.

(By the way, the fact that even some conservatives, who share her basic philosophical views, publicly rebuke her the way they do speaks very strongly to the inherent intellectual/political honesty and courage that is central to the Conservative psyche. One would never find a Liberal commentator publicly dressing down a Liberal standard-bearer in such an elemental way. Never.)

So, what is it about Palin that drives these reactions?

It’s doubtful that it’s her views, per se:

– Lower taxes so individuals and businesses can be more directly involved and responsible for their own affairs, rather than relying on Centralized Government largess and regulation
– A strong national defense to meet the requirements of national security in today’s challenging global environment
– Increased border security and control, to better handle the myriad problems associated with unrestricted illegal immigration
– Less onerous Government-mandated PC rules and intrusions into the everyday lives of the citizenry

These basic positions are actually agreed upon by most people, from all points on the political continuum, especially if one can divorce these views from the person actually saying them.

And therein lays the issue. It’s a matter of presentation, of persona, of aura. For the Coast-bound Liberal Elite Media (including a few Conservatives), Palin is just too ‘folksy’ and ‘down home’ in her approach. There is a limit to how many “Betcha’s” and “By golly’s” the self-appointed intelligentsia can stomach.

It remains fascinating to continually see these self-declared experts confuse “intelligence” with “presentation.” The two are not necessarily directly related, just as leadership/inspirational/motivational skills and absolute intellectual capacity are not necessarily related. They can be, but a lock-step correlation (assuming—obviously—that the requisite minimum abilities are present) isn’t necessary or even present most of the time. Rendering the entire issue moot is the ludicrous notion that a casually-observant third party could accurately determine so-called “intelligence” by the presence or absence of such things like a regional accent, use of colloquialisms, unclear enunciation, etc.

Also, let this be very clear: IN NO WAY is any of this to be construed as an endorsement of Palin for high national office. Rather, it’s an observation on how polarizing personalities (whether those personalities are naturally polarizing or media-manufactured to be so) can obscure actual viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are straightforward and seemingly appeal to a wide swath of the electorate.

In the end, there are three take-aways from all this:

1. Most people, regardless of their raw intellect, are incapable of separating a politician’s substantive views from their presentation style.
2. Because of no. 1 above, politicians (with their managers’/publicists’ help) should attempt to adapt their presentation style as well as they can to the audience they’re addressing. If it’s to a Coastal Elite and it will get national coverage, then “dress” accordingly.
3. Those who can see through the ‘Betcha’s” and “By golly’s” and recognize Palin’s views on lower taxes, a strong defense, better border security, et al. are to be commended for dispensing with the extraneous distractions and distortions of media-influenced political coverage. Very few people are truly capable of assembling the facts and thinking for themselves.

Comments

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  • Brian H

    I like Palin and am filled with great anticipation to watch her reality show. But, the “time tested truth” is that Palin is better at endorsing than she is at running.

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  • Red State Eddio

    I think it’s also because she’s a woman – but not the kind we expected.

    In the eyes of the liberal media, she has committed the unpardonable sin: she has rejected the modern-woman-as-designed-by-liberals model of feminity. She is a strong personality, marked by conservative principles (faith in God, country, family), and a champion for the every-woman – the very people most liberal women and men are trying to change to be more like they are.

    Since she is not a tool of the Left, and because she is too strong a personality for them to ignore, she must be destroyed. They will not rest until she is shown to be a worse option when compared to even pariahs like Adolf Hitler.

    This article in the American Thinker illustrates just how intense the Left and libs hate her and people like her. http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/11/the_wilding_of_sarah_palin.html

    I agree that the experience/gravitas issue is legit, but it doesn’t fully explain the inense vitriol. That, I think, is more of this issue.

    • Whodat

      Middle of the target,Red. Well thought, well said!

      I have noticed the bias, but it is nothing new:
      Clarence Thomas is not the right kind of black,
      Jesus was not the right kind of Jew.

      There’re physical laws at play here, as well:”Any Force creates an equal opposing force, so,the
      More excitement she creates,receives more lib hell

  • Steve Feinstein

    I agree and disagree. How you lead is certainly important–at least in domestic affairs–but the actual policy and substance of what you do–increase/decrease taxes, drill/don’t drill, increase/reduce the Fed deficit, etc.— matters a lot—even more than so-called “style.”

    “Style” skills gives the President the ability to persuade the public and get them on his side, which then presumably helps him persuade Congress as well.

    But–and this is a huge ‘but’–“style” counts for virtually nothing in international relations. Countries act in their own self-interest, whether that interest is economic or military, or security-based, whatever. Trade agreements, military treaties, arms sales, technological assistance, tariffs, etc. are determined solely and completely on substance and policy. Personality doesn’t affect or bend the outcome internationally at all. Obama’s failure in S. Korea this week to secure the trade agreement is further proof of that: He didn’t ‘do his homework,’so no deal. His “smooth style” counted for nothing. Nothing.

    “I just like his looks, his style, the way he talks,” is much earier for most voters. And unfortunately, much more common. As I said in my article, to ignore that is to ignore reality. But it does explain a lot, and that was my point.

    My feeling is that so-called ‘style’ matters more in the candidate selection, campaigning, and voting process. But once in office, it’s policy, policy, policy that counts.

    Nice-nice talk and slick presentation count most when coveting votes and displaying one’s presumptive “leadership” skills to the electorate. But neither of those things matters one whit when raising taxes, allowing unfettered illegal immigration, or trying to convince Iran not to go nuke.

    “Style” is for campaigning and elections; “policy” is for actual governing. My point is that most voters fall all-to-easily for ‘style,’ and are shocked (shocked!) by governing policy that they didn’t–or refused–to see coming.

    And just to clarify again: This is NOT an endorsement or even an analysis of Palin’s suitability for high office or her electability.

    It’s an observation on my part of how “style” (in this case, Palin’s) influences how the public perceives a national figure, either positively or negatively. In Palin’s case, her “style” leads to a negative perception, even by those who may have very similar policy positions.

  • http://www.politicalderby.com/ Jason Wright, Editor

    I get what Steve is saying, but it’s just not a reality that’s possible anymore. Ever since the Kennedy/Nixon debate it’s become clear that look, style and presentation are important factors for people. It’s not just about policy. If that were the issue, we wouldn’t have elected Obama. We would have elected a moderate like Bayh or Rudy. Style and leadership skills matter and Palin continues to have a tough time convincing middle of the road voters that she has the serious thinking and gravitas to live in the White House.

  • MadRick1975

    What she believes is irrelevant if she can’t get elected. Your examples were all more electable. Palin CANNOT win a national election.

  • Boru

    “Most people, regardless of their raw intellect, are incapable of separating a politician’s substantive views from their presentation style.”

    Ah, the masses are stupid argument. This is also the argument for preventing the masses from having any real decision-making power. That it is better to just have mock elections with mock leaders…the people think their vote matters, but really the government is ran by an oligarchy.

    I’m not saying the argument is false. But if it is true, I’d much rather an oligarchy run the government than whoever has the most appealing presentation style.

    Hmmm, conservatism seems to be about preserving founding principles. I believe one of the founding principles was that only land owners and such could vote.

    As I am close to paying off my mortgage, the wisdom and discipline it took to do this now gives me a better perspective on the evolution of my belief system…and of others I know. I must admit that I do see great wisdom in this oligarchial principle…and for the faux voting element for the masses.

    People need to *feel* they have a voice to keep morale up…which leads to keeping productivity up and lowers competition for the ruling class.

    Scary stuff, eh?