Belmont Club

Stranger in a strange land

On the road that will take me homeThe National Review Online has excerpts of Sarah Palin’s prepared remarks. From the small sample of passages provided, one can infer that her speech will in part be about defining herself as hailing from a place that isn’t Washington.

“I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town. I was just your average hockey mom, and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids’ public education better. When I ran for city council, I didn’t need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters, and knew their families, too. Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” …

“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment. And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. … Here’s how I look at the choice Americans face in this election. In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

Every four years a fresh set of candidates promises to lay siege to Washington. Barack Obama himself has adopted the role of a kind of exotic Mr. Smith coming to Washington; and so as we see does Sarah Palin.  Both present themselves as outsiders.  But the media, which wants them to be “rebels” also demands they possess “experience”. So both say they have “experience”. But how can a candidate simultaneously be an insider and outsider at one and the same time?

One answer apparently, is to create a parallel country; a place of alternate belonging to which the candidate can claim to represent. In that way the candidate can be experienced in government — but only as an infiltrator — and simultaneously be a person from somewhere else. Mickey Kaus at Slate has watched the emergence of the “other country” in political speech.  Even John McCain has said he wants “to understand what you’re going through, to stand on your side and fight for you … to make government stand on your side and not in your way.” The phrase ‘who goes there?’ echoes in the paranoid corriders of Washington, the capital’s version of Chicago’s ‘who sent you?’ The National Organization of Women, reacting to the nomination of Sarah Palin noted that “Gov. Palin may be the second woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, but she is not the right woman.” And ‘the right kind of woman’ is of course, what NOW feels itself qualified to determine.

Joe Lieberman’s lonely appeal at the RNC for all voters to consider themselves Americans first, instead of Democrats and Republicans has the kind of wistfulness found in Macaulay’s longing for simpler times in his Lays of Ancient Rome, a nostalgia for the days before the mythical fall. But maybe the reality is more complex. Perhaps there was never a Golden Age of harmony.  From its inception the United States has been the scene of endless conflict to define itself: from civil wars to marches into the wilderness to found a city of God and has never since stopped. Maybe this place of contention, marketplace of ideas and tumultous chorus has always been home, and no one would have it any other way.

Tip Jar.