The Exaggerated Victimhood of Sarah Palin
In criticizing various Matthew Continetti articles pegged to his book The Persecution of Sarah Palin, I’ve focused on two objections:
1) The arguments in the pieces themselves are weak.
2) It is imprudent for an intelligent writer who acknowledges that his subject is unprepared for the presidency to fashion a political strategy to help her win that office!
Today I’d like to raise a final objection.
Shortly after Gov. Palin appeared on the national political scene, I wrote a piece warning Americans against the politics of schadenfreude — the strategy of deliberately drawing political support from the perception that you’re being treated unfairly. It is perfectly fair for Mr. Continetti to flag instances when Gov. Palin is being wrongly abused. What vexes me is when he overstates or exaggerates the supposed persecution of Ms. Palin, because I think it feeds the politics of schadenfreude, and an unhealthy trend on the right toward casting ourselves as victims.
So where is the evidence that he overstates his case? I submit this blog post as an egregious instance.
As you read, please refrain for a moment from clicking through to any of the links Mr. Continetti provides:
Sarah Palin’s Washington Post op-ed today, calling on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate summit, has elicited a predictable response from the left. Foreign Policy’s Annie Lowrey blogs: “I wouldn’t recommend reading it.” Joe Klein seems worried that “The Washington Post devotes valuable op-ed space today to Sarah Palin.” Noted climate expert Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has penned a long “Fisking” of the op-ed, in which he concludes, “It is virtually certain that humans are causing a significant amount of climate (not weather!) change over time.” Gotta love the “virtually” part.
Like Charles Krauthammer, I’m a global-warming agnostic. Like Freeman Dyson, I happen to think that the trade-offs involved in fighting climate change are too burdensome to support at the moment. And the piece to read on the East Anglia scandal is Steven F. Hayward’s cover piece in the new STANDARD.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Palin continues to be held to a ridiculous standard by the scribblers and bloggers who are outraged that she’s still around and opines from time to time on the issues of the day. This is America, folks. Best-selling authors write op-eds. That’s what they do. Moreover, Palin happens to have an extensive background in energy issues, from her time on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, to her stint as governor of Alaska. Her opinions on the subject of energy are considered.
The reaction to her is not, however. As Palin critic Megan McArdle memorably put it: “I really wish the media wouldn’t act like, well, a bunch of elitist hooligans who are out to get her. I’ve coined a new phrase to cover the situation: Palinoia. It’s when you think people are out to get you, and then they do their best to justify your erroneous belief.”
Okay, having absorbed Mr. Continetti’s characterizations — imagine what you’ll find at those links based on what he said — let’s look one by one at the critics who are supposedly acting like “elitist hooligans” and holding Ms. Palin to “ridiculous standards.”
Example one: Annie Lowery at Foreign Policy. It’s to long to excerpt in full, but see for yourself: it is a straightforward, perfectly respectful blog post that critiques the op-ed in the most standard, straightforward manner imaginable.
Example two: Joe Klein:
The Washington Post devotes valuable op-ed space today to Sarah Palin, who uses it to denounce “politicized science”:
I’ve always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics.
Okay. But she’s not denouncing the politicized, oil-drenched policies of the Bush Administration. She’s joining the right-wing hysteria chorus, which has launched a new attack on the science of climate change based on some embarrassing and disgraceful emails written by scientists at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit. For a more accurate account of the import of those emails, check out Tom Friedman’s column in the NY Times.
The post goes on, but Ms. Palin isn’t mentioned again. Reading it in full — again, go check for yourself — one cannot help but ask, “Where’s the beef?” How can Mr. Continetti cite that blog post as an instance of Ms. Palin being “held to a ridiculous standard.”
And the final example? This Marc Ambinder post. It is a point by point refutation of Ms. Palin’s op-ed. A “Fisking” as it is called in the blogosphere — because it is a style of rebuttal you see often enough to give it a widely known name.
By the standards of Internet political discourse, all three of these critiques are notable for their civility and substantive counterarguments. Contra Mr. Continetti’s implication, none suggest “outrage” at the mere fact that she is opining. The disagreement is with the substance of her argument. Put another way, Mr. Continetti has shown us examples of three people disagreeing with Sarah Palin about the argument she makes in an op-ed, and he has written a blog post asserting that this is an outrage. This does a disservice to everyone who bought his characterization without clicking through to the linked pieces.
Before closing, let’s return to that last part of Mr. Continetti’s post:
This is America, folks. Best-selling authors write op-eds. That’s what they do. Moreover, Palin happens to have an extensive background in energy issues, from her time on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, to her stint as governor of Alaska. Her opinions on the subject of energy are considered.
What a curiously written paragraph. It manages to elide the fact that “energy issues” encompasses a whole bunch of different stuff. So one can have “an extensive background in energy issues” like building oil pipelines, extracting fossil fuels from the earth, and protecting local water supplies in the process, and know absolutely nothing about other issues, like how to produce battery cells that maximize duration of charge while minimizing waste, or the best way to dispose of nuclear waste, or… climate change!
So does Gov. Palin know enough about climate change to pontificate on it? Mr. Continetti cites as affirmative evidence the fact that she served on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission. Why does he cite that body? Its mission is to extract as much petroleum from the ground as possible while protecting the local water supply. Am I unaware of some aspect of its mission that would afford someone involved knowledge about climate issues? Obscure Alaskan agencies aren’t my expertise. I’ll happily post an update if pointed to anything suggesting the contrary. But I’m not seeing it.
In any case, I wish Mr. Continetti and others would stop exaggerating “the persecution of Sarah Palin.” It is difficult to see who benefits from these exercises in supposed victim-hood.