Hubris, Nemesis, and Partying Like It's 1773
When Sarah Palin told a Tea Party crowd last Monday that it wasn’t time yet to “party like it's 1773," segments of the left such as Kos's founder Markos Moulitsas chortled at her supposed stupidity. Their kneejerk assumption was that Palin was so ignorant that she didn't even know the date of early events in the American Revolution. But since it was actually the Boston Tea Party (1773) to which she was referring, it was Sarah who had the last laugh.
Yes, it's a funny story. But it has a serious side -- and contains a lesson for the left, if they could ever learn it. The message is this: if you misunderestimate (Bush's word) your opposition, that's a form of hubris. And when hubris arrives, can nemesis be far behind?
But the left has such a low opinion of Sarah Palin's intelligence and knowledge that they frequently assume not only that she is ignorant of the more subtle details of history that are easily grasped by leftist intellectuals, but that she lacks even the sort of basic information about American history that used to be taught to every grade school student.
That is a mistake of epic proportions, not only because Palin might surprise them by coming across better than they have come to expect, but because it can lead them directly to the sort of pitfalls that lie in wait for those who make such arrogant assumptions. Just a drop of respect for Palin's knowledge -- or, at the very least, her speechwriter’s and/or fact checker’s--would have led them to take a mere moment to research her 1773 reference. That effort would have been quickly rewarded. But their certainty led them to make automatic assumptions, and then directly into an embarrassing error.
Donald Rumsfeld (remember him?) once said that there are:
... known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.
It's those unknown unknowns that tend to lead to the deepest trouble. For Palin's critics, the significance of the year 1773 was just such an unknown unknown. The idea that Sarah Palin might be subtle enough to make a pun about "party" and "Tea Party" (not that it's all that subtle, but they don't even give her credit for that much wit), and that she also knows something about history that they don't know, is simply incomprehensible to them. Therefore they fell into the trap.
Was it actually a deliberate lure? There's been a bit of speculation in the blogosphere that Palin may have made the reference as bait, knowing that it would be irresistible to some. And maybe she did; after all, she's a wily hunter.