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Why Sarah Palin is what’s right and what’s wrong with America

Say what you will about the dilettante politician from the great state of Alaska, but she sure knows how to ignite passion – both from supporters and detractors. And while you may agree on her stance that global warming is fake (you know, it’s not global warming-global warming, a la Whoopie’s ‘rape-rape,’ but it’s pretty close) or get queasy every time she discusses foreign policy (even when she’s poking fun at herself), Palin could be the perfect symbol of what’s right and what’s wrong with America and its denizens of the 21st Century.

Sarah Palin is living the American Dream – although she would be the last person to tell you it was because of liberal idealism that she has been able to climb the political and social (if not economic) ladder. With roots in what she – and many in the political game – calls “the real America” (because you know, New York City and San Francisco aren’t parts of real America), Palin has spread her folksy wisdom to the tendrils of the nation. And this in itself could be why Sarah Palin is what’s right about America.

In many other nations, Palin wouldn’t be able to openly disagree with the President, let alone her own party; here, however, she can say what she wants when she wants and to whom she wants. There is no Palin censorship, no a priori or a posteri censorship. This is, believe it or not, a good thing. We want to have freedom of speech so we can hear multiple sides of a debate, even if some of those sides make absolutely no sense. The sweeping hand of Adam Smith and the marketplace of ideas (from our discussions, truth will emerge, even if it takes a really, really, really long time; civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights?) allows Palin to speak what’s on her mind.

This is the version of America my grandfather fled war-torn Europe for – the ability to openly and publicly debate ideas and ideologies. He couldn’t do that in a concentration camp. This is what’s right with our country and no matter how vitriolic the venom from people’s mouths is, having the ability to speak our convictions without fear of persecution is a beautiful thing. Even coming from Sarah Palin. However…

Palin also represents what’s wrong with our society. She clearly falls into the anti-intellectualism section of our robust population. And that’s a bad thing for us. We live in paradoxical times – we hate Wall Street’s greed, yet how many of us would deceive a coworker to get ahead – and we need leaders who think first, act second. We need to have serious debate about the serious issues our nation faces. However, our society doesn’t work that way, does it? We want it cheap and we want it fast. This is not sustainable; we need to take our time to explore all (or as many as possible) our options

While the spread of anti-intellectualism didn’t start (nor will it end) with her, she has successfully hijacked the spokesperson’s position of ranting about anything that has to deal with thinking. In her world, thinking through to a logical conclusion doesn’t exist: act now or else.

Stemming from her anti-intellectual movement is the unsurprising realization that she doesn’t believe in science. She is quick to dismiss those who don’t agree with her canonical perspective. This, too, is a major issue within our borders. We preach the separation of church and state, but in reality, the two are intertwined on such a granular level, we tend to ignore the complexity of the issue. Palin takes that complexity and laughs in its face. Evolution? Ha! We all know creationism is the true science. Global warming? Ha! We all know it’s bogus.

Sarah Palin is an opportunist. She derides Washington as being an insider’s club. Indeed, she’s very proud not to be considered part of Washington yet she attends the most exclusive Washington events. She impales the media for talking about her – i.e., making things up, because, you know, the media never fact checks anything – yet without the coverage, she would still be mayor of a town of 7,000 people; not a pop persona.

She is no different than the Salahis – OK, maybe a bit different as she didn’t crash a White House event to be on a reality show as much as she gatecrashed the Republican Party. Again, this is another disease our nation has caught. Warhol’s 15-minutes of fame is antiquated in today’s reality TV era. With many avenues to seek out fame, our country is slightly obsessed with being famous. We’ll do anything to be on a show about the real housewives of wherever, that we’ll expose national security as weak while hobnobbing with Washington’s elite. Being opportunistic can only go so far. Because once you step into the light, you better have something to help sustain your new found fame.

Sarah Palin is a perfect representation of the dichotomy of these great United States. She represents those who use the system to their advantage while also representing those who dream the impossible dream. She has one foot planted in hate and another foot firmly on love. Love of country, love of symbols, love of ideals, love of growth, love of controversy. She embodies America, whether you like it or not, and just as throughout the history of America, the marketplace of ideas will determine if she’s right or wrong.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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