I’ve finally come to realize Sarah Palin has been a big help.
Whether your focus is politics or pop culture, Palin’s emergence has dramatized the Big Divide in this country. Palin’s America is split between (to use Palin’s lexicon) the “Joe Sixpacks” and the so-called “elites.” And apparently, we all have to choose sides.
The Big Divide, as it continues to expand, will impact not only the presidency and the party system but also film, TV and other sectors of our culture.
So make up your mind, folks. Are you one of those ridiculous, pointy-headed, oversecularized and overeducated elitists? Or are you one of Palin’s down-home value-based “real” folks?
Some might ask, does this Big Divide make any sense? David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times, observed last week that Republican strategy seems based on a doctrine of disunity.
“The Republican party has driven away people who live in highly educated regions and on the coasts,” he wrote. “Polls have also shown that the party has systematically alienated whole professions — lawyers, doctors, tech executives, even the banking community.”
At the same time, the party also is blowing off the working class, thus squeezing the party at both ends. Who’s left? Moose-hunters in Alaska?
It’s intriguing that Palin’s America has begun to assert itself at the very time the economy is tanking. Joe Sixpack (and Joe Plumber, who emerged in the final debate) may resent the excesses of Wall Street, but Joe’s also the guy who’s been buying homes he can’t afford and running up credit card debt.
General Motors for generations has been styling its gas guzzlers for Joe Sixpack, abjuring the tastes of those elitists who’ve been favoring Prius or Lexus.
Television has found its own way of dealing with the Great Divide. Broadcast networks are treading water with “My Name Is Earl,” even as elitist snobs fork out the big bucks for pay cable.
Similarly it’s increasingly clear that the movie business is split into two dream factories — one hammering out tentpole pictures for the teen Sixpacks and the other focusing on specialty films for those damn elites. The studios only ran into trouble when the tentpolers tried to mess around in the arthouse business.
The paradox of Palinism is that it represents a basic misunderstanding of the conservative movement. Going back to Edmund Burke or even to William F. Buckley, Brooks reminds us that the thoughtful “right” was sophisticated and urbane. Reagan conservatism came across as a pragmatic, if eccentric, blend of small-town values with coastal reach.
Take a look at Oliver Stone’s “W.” and you’re also reminded that it was George Bush who made the cynical decision to reinvent the Republican Party. An abject failure at everything he tried, this prep school Yalie decided he could only succeed as, guess who, Joe Sixpack. Under Karl Rove’s guidance, Brooks says, “Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize the new Bush coalition into a form of social class warfare.”
And now John McCain has reinforced it by making what may turn out to be the most erratic casting choice in modern political history as his vice president. No one’s ultimately going to gain from his choice except “Saturday Night Live.”