Everything that can be said about Sarah Palin has been said. To be sure, as with Sleepless in Seattle or Casablanca, Palin afficianados can replay the best bits endlessly, mouthing her awful dialogue like lip-synching pop fans. But there is something important to be said about the commentary on, and reaction to, the Palin debacle -- something that has been gotten totally wrong by almost all of the commentators.
The standard line on Palin is that she represents, and hence speaks to and for, working-class Americans, non-elite Americans, high school graduate Americans, Americans who do not inhabit the coasts or go to toney private schools. And this, I cannot suggest too strongly, is a blood libel on those very men and women.
The truth, as everyone knows, even though many think they are not allowed to say, is that Sarah Palin is an ignorant and stupid woman. I know, I know, commentators right, center, and left keep saying that although she is not "ready" for national office, nevertheless she is a bright and talented person. Now, I spent fifty years -- a half century -- as a university teacher. I got very good indeed at evaluating the written and spoken productions of the thousands of students who passed through my classes. I can tell ignorance when I see it, and I can tell stupidity when I see it. I can spot confusion of thought a mile away. I can tell the difference between a prepared and vetted [or, as we say in the Academy, plagiarized] piece of writing and a piece of writing that is the genuine product of the student himself or herself. Sarah Palin is just plain dumb. To say that she has foreign policy experience because you can see Russia from Alaska is not just asinine [and, for the most part false, of course]. It is dumb. Not to be able to say which newspapers you read is not just a sign of stage fright or hostility to the elite media. It is plain stupid.
The fact that Sarah Palin is ignorant and stupid is not important [nor does it disqualify her for higher office, as the history of the United States demonstrates.] But it IS important to say, loudly and clearly, that intelligence and political understanding are as widespread among working class men and women as among men and women who have middle class jobs. Shirts as well as suits can put ideas together, spot hypocrisy, identify and articulate their interests, and form intelligent judgments about public affairs. Those with college educations are frequently smoother and more stylish in the expression of their opinions, but they are NOT by and large more intelligant in the formation of those opinions. What evidence have I for this assertion? Consider: working class Americans are more likely to vote for the Democratic than for the Republican party, and that tendency is not only an objectively accurate reflection of their real interests; it is also a simple but reliable sign of their superior intelligence.
There was a time, now for the most part gone, when socialist organizers arranged and taught sophisticated classes about economics and politics to working men and women who, despite putting in long and hard hours in factories and on farms, nevertheless spent their evenings studying. To be sure, what they learned was somewhat different from what was being taught in college classrooms, but it was deeper, closer to the truth, and just as intellectually demanding. That is how my grandfather learned what he knew about Karl Marx and socialism, and it is what people like my good friend, Enver Motala, were doing in South African townships only twenty years ago.
The appalling condescension of the media commentators who repeat this libel is evidence both of their ignorance and of their thoughtlessness. One must never forget that all of them, left, right, and center, spend their lives in upper middle class comfort, surrounded by people who echo the comforting falsehood that their wealth and education make them wiser than the unwashed multitudes to whom they deign to offer their opinions.