Sarah Palin: White Trash

When you live in Texas for a while, you come to know a lot of different people. Of course, there is the vast array of ethnic and cultural diversity, but what’s interesting to me are the broader divisions and character types. Of course, you have your various optimists and entrepreneurs who are living the dream of going west and building something entirely new for themselves. They frequently come into contact with the “good ol’boys”, who are unsophisticated and rowdy, or, usually, just act like it, but with essentially good hearts. There are the rednecks, who are mostly blue collar and unpolished, but who are trying to do better for themselves. And you have your standard assortment of working class people, some of whom are content with their lot in life, and others who are trying to at least get their kids ahead. And then you have white trash.

Defining white trash is never easy to do, but, like John Paul Stevens, we know it when we see it. It’s the sense of robbed birthright, combined with a pride in cultural illiteracy and a belief in the virtue of their lack of education. It’s the meanness of spirit that leads to them refusing to call blacks anything but n*****s or, if they’re being generous, “coloured”. All Hispanics and Latinos, are, of course, “Mexicans”, and all are named Pedro. It’s the venality of their crimes: walking out on tabs at restaurants and bars, shoplifting from convenience and discount stores, the numerous acts of adultery and infidelity, the spending on conspicuous consumption rather than bettering themselves, etc. All of this is usually combined with belonging to some obscure sect of Protestantism that tells them that it doesn’t matter if they do all these things, because they are the elect of God.

Why do I bring this up? Because I can’t think of a better way to describe Sarah Palin. That woman is pure white trash. When the story about the RNC buying her clothes first broke, I was initially sympathetic. The sheer costs of being a woman in public are higher in ways that most men will never understand, even if we marry, have sisters, or female friends, and, unlike most politicians, coming from a working class background, Palin and her family just didn’t have closets full of Armani, Anne Klein II, etc. This, however, completely changed my mind:

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin’s shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain’s top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

A Palin aide said: “Governor Palin was not directing staffers to put anything on their personal credit cards, and anything that staffers put on their credit cards has been reimbursed, like an expense. Nasty and false accusations following a defeat say more about the person who made them than they do about Governor Palin.”

McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.

To anyone who’s ever had to deal with white trash, this isn’t surprising. It takes someone with a deep sense of entitlement and no respect for anyone or anything outside her whims to bully campaign staffers in their early twenties into buying expensive clothes on their own personal credit cards. The sheer meanness of not only overspending what the RNC was willing to give her, but, then coming up with creative ways to keep it from the man who was supposed to her boss is astounding. And, of course, given the fact that white trash is all that’s left of the GOP, I don’t think that it’s surprising that they identified so strongly with Sarah Palin.


Sarah Palin Did Not Cost McCain The Election

Originally posted at The Texas Blue.

Now that the McCain/Palin ticket found the bottom of the downward spiral to an electoral defeat of Mondale proportions, journalists, campaign operatives, and others looking to make names for themselves are all sagely pointing the finger of blame at Sarah Palin. Granted, she made things easier; I will enjoy few things more than seeing her consigned to the Dan Quayle Institute of Forgotten Novelty Candidates. One thing that she did not do, however, was cost the Republicans the election.

To assume that Sarah Palin cost the Republicans the election is to initially assume that they had a chance to win it. I contend that even if they had a small chance to do it, John McCain could never have done it running against Barack Obama. The basic formula for a victory is turning out the base of your party, some independent and undecided voters, and some amount of the other party’s voters for you. John McCain has never had a lock on the GOP base:

Nearly five months after John McCain effectively locked down the Republican presidential nomination, many leaders of the religious right remain underwhelmed. A new Newsweek article asserts that McCain’s candidacy has “tamped down” enthusiasm among these conservatives, “exposing fractures that make a rallying of the troops in the pews unlikely.”

The recent L.A. Times/Bloomberg national poll spotlighted a pronounced “passion gap” in the presidential race, with fully 81% of Barack Obama supporters declaring themselves fired up about his candidacy and only 45% of the McCain backers feeling likewise about their man.

And here’s an even more concrete sign of the difficulty McCain has been having rallying core Republicans, courtesy of a Gannett News Service story published Monday:

“Of the more than 900 Hoosiers who contributed at least $2,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign, only about 50 had contributed to the Arizona senator by the end of [May], according to a review of campaign disclosure reports….”

Part of this is not McCain’s fault. The base of the GOP changed drastically between the 1980’s, when McCain’s political career began, and 2008, when he finally got his chance to run. Had the GOP still been able to get Sunbelt voters, Latinos, and Yankee Republicans and blue collar manufacturing sector white workers in addition to Southerners, as Reagan did, he would have been able to assemble a massive coalition. Had he been able to work with the Bush coalition, which had a Republican “Solid South”, higher Latino margins, and the remnants of Yankee Republicans, he would have had a formidable base from which to work. But Republicans threw away all the gains that President Bush made with Latinos and Hispanics during their immigration meltdown of the last three years. Yankee Republicans are now voting Democratic, and the Sunbelt Republican is slowly being converted to a Sunbelt Democrat as well. All that was left for him to build on was The Solid South.

This, of course, is the rub. McCain was the candidate of every Republican coalition partner except the Southern moralists and the religious right that make up the Solid South. He has famously spat on them over and over again, and they were only happy to return the favor:

A prominent Christian leader whose radio and magazine outreaches are solidly in support of biblically-based marriages – and keeps in touch with millions of constituents daily – says he cannot consider Arizona Sen. John McCain a viable candidate for president.

“Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances,” said James Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family as well as the Focus Action cultural action organization set up specifically to provide a platform for informing and rallying constituents.

Dobson, who always is careful to note that he’s not speaking for the non-profit ministry, which cannot advocate for or against candidates legally, also doesn’t hesitate to state his personal opinions on social or political issues and agendas.

Several times he’s talked to Republicans, the traditionally conservative political party, about the need to maintain the values of that large part of the U.S. population, or lose the support of those people.

The important thing to note here is that McCain was the candidate of the traditional Republican coalition as it looked prior to 1980 — in other words, he was the candidate of the base to which Southerners and the religious right were added on. Unfortunately, by an operation similar to Gresham’s Law, the party that relied on the religious right and Southern conservatives as the biggest partner in their coalition saw the other partners of their coalition marginalized or driven out. Their swelled ranks allowed them to wield a lot of power in the nineties, but the people who then nominated and elected Bush in 2000 were different from those that nominated and elected Reagan in 1980. While Reagan had once famously said, “You can’t endorse me, but I can endorse you” to the religious right, Bush ran as one of them. The party that McCain inherited, while paying nominal allegiance to Reagan, now barely resembled the party that he had helped put together, and there was no way for a Sunbelt Republican like McCain to fully capture the allegiance of this transformed party.

Without going too deeply into the particulars of the Republican primary, we can all agree that it was a circular firing squad of conservative-approved candidates that allowed McCain to squeak through, which he did while repudiating every position that made him popular to the pre-Reagan Republican coalition. While the Democratic primary was going on without an end in sight, McCain was taking the time to try and convince everyone in the new GOP that he was their guy. From making “appropriate” speeches on the judiciary to cravenly backing down from his comprehensive immigration reform legislation, McCain gave it everything he had. Having inherited a Dixie revival tent party, he then spent months trying to recast himself as their champion, but to no avail. If you lie to everyone, no one will trust you.

Going into August, he still hadn’t put the base of the Republican Party behind him, and, after a massively successful Democratic National Convention, he panicked. There is no other explanation for picking Sarah Palin. She gave him what no one else was able to: the base. Within minutes of her announcement, the entire tone of the Republican base changed. Whereas once they were putting up websites about getting drunk enough to vote for McCain, they were suddenly turning up in massive numbers to write blogs, volunteer, etc.

The problem? There just weren’t enough of them to make up the difference. The Republican base is the analogue to bad money: it drove the moderates and soft Democrats out.

Sarah Palin is a noxious political figure who should be returned to obscurity as soon as humanly possible, and with luck, will be defeated in Alaska in 2010. But she should not be blamed for the catastrophe that was the McCain campaign.