George Graham

Sarah Palin, the New Populism’s Strange Bedfellow

Charles Dudley Warner, a Connecticut newspaperman and Mark Twain’s collaborator and neighbor, observed that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” If you have any doubts about the truth of that statement, consider the emergence of Sarah Palin and the Republican Party as allies of the populist movement in America. And then ponder the perception of President Obama and the Democrats as part of a know-it-all elite that’s positively un-American.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich suspects that Palin projects an easy-to-ridicule image as a trap for Democrats. Examining the most recent source of humor at her expense, Rich says:

You had to wonder if Palin, who is nothing if not cunning, had sprung a trap. She knows all too well that the more the so-called elites lampoon her, the more she cements her cred with the third of the country that is her base. Her hand hieroglyphics may not have been speaking aids but bait.

sarahI’m sure I don’t have to explain what Rich means by Palin’s “hand hieroglyphics.” You know by now that the former vice presidential candidate (snicker, snicker) scribbled reminders in the palm of her hand to help her get through that speech to the Tea Party convention.

The elite and those who think they’re elite have indulged in an orgy of mockery. It was so… so Third Grade, for God’s sake. How superior the scoffers felt. They haven’t cheated like that for decades, not since the invention of teleprompters and Google.

What the ivy league crowd and their imitators are too smart to realize is that at least a third of Americans are not only uninformed but defiantly proud of it. These are the kids who just didn’t get it when their teachers explained the theory of evolution, who became accustomed to the mocking laughter of classmates.

They would gladly have written notes in their palms if they’d been clever enough to think of it. So when the smart alecs sneer at their Sarah, it just makes them more loyal to her. Who in hell do these jerks in their Armani suits and Nike running shoes think they are, anyway? Them and their effete “book larnin’.”

Palin got one of her biggest cheers when she derided President Obama as a “professor” – remember?

Palin’s fans don’t care how well she says what she means; they get it. She speaks their language, however inarticulate it might be.

What’s even more troubling is the way the Republican Party has managed to co-opt the populist cause. Rich observes that:

The Palin shtick has now become the Republican catechism, parroted by every party leader in Washington. Their constant refrain, delivered with cynicism but not irony, is this: Republicans are the anti-big-government, anti-stimulus, anti-Wall Street, pro-Tea Party tribunes of the common folk. “This is about the people,” as Palin repeatedly put it last weekend while pocketing $100,000 of the Tea Partiers’ money.

Republican leaders know how dumb the vast majority of American “populists” are. These are not people you can reason with. They want the government to cut back spending, create jobs and win wars – and they see no contradiction in such conflicting demands. They want to keep their Medicare and Social Security but are terrified of “Socialism.” They want guaranteed wages but no unions. They want unrestricted oil and gas drilling – and pristine lakes and forests to fish and hunt in, as well as tranquil beaches for their families to enjoy. And so on.

Republican leaders recognize how easy it is to bamboozle these simple folk. The Republican politicians have figured out they can say anything and do the opposite without the “angry populists” catching on.

Here are a couple of examples from Rich’s column:

shelbyThe three senators named “porkers of the month” for December by the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste were all Republicans: Richard Shelby of Alabama, Susan Collins of Maine and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Shelby (photo at right) is so unashamedly addicted to earmarks that he used a senatorial “hold” to halt confirmation votes on 70 Obama administration appointees until his costly shopping list of Alabama pork projects was granted. Or so he did until his over-the-top theatrics earned him unwelcome attention and threatened to derail his party’s pious antispending posturing.

While more brazen than his peers, Shelby is otherwise typical of them. Jonathan Karl of ABC News last week unearthed photographs of various G.O.P. congressmen posing in their districts with stimulus checks that they had publicly opposed. The Washington Times uncovered more than a dozen other Republican lawmakers who privately solicited stimulus money from the Department of Agriculture while denouncing the stimulus to their constituents and the news media, often angrily.

In other words, they want to loot the treasury while accusing the Democrats of being spendthrifts. They know those “angry populists” aren’t going to figure out what they’re up to.

It’s so easy it’s laughable. But the Republican politicians aren’t laughing. They’re too smart for that. They’ll leave that to the Democrats. As Rich says:

That the G.O.P. may actually be winning this argument is less an indictment of Palin than of Washington Democrats too busy reading the writing on her hand to see or respond to the ominous political writing on the wall.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for