The female Andrew Jackson

Monday, November 30th, 2009 · 41 Comments »

(And now, a brief digression from our ongoing Diocletian working session, which continues here and here.)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signs a copy of her autobiography, "Going Rogue", at the North Post Exchange at Fort Bragg, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signs a copy of her autobiography, 'Going Rogue', at the North Post Exchange at Fort Bragg, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

Someone emailed me last night about Sarah Palin. “Do you think she’s going to run for president?” my correspondent asked.

Of course she’s going to run for president. She’s already running for president.

I knew that the day she resigned the Alaska governorship. Some people thought she was really retiring from politics. Not me. I watched the video clip of her resignation speech and knew exactly what was up.

“I’ll be damned,” I said to myself. “She’s Andrew Jackson.” Literally. I said those actual words.

I say those same words to myself almost every time I see her on the news. Latest report: thousands of people lined up around the block in some little town, waiting for her to sign their book. People crying. Women bringing their babies, bringing pictures of their menfolk who are deployed in Iraq.

It reminds me of the story of Andy Jackson’s Inauguration, with the people climbing through windows and standing on the furniture in the East Room. Broken glass trampled underfoot; huge punchbowls of lemonade on the White House lawn. A joyous mob of rednecks and riff-raff.

Jackson was pretty uncouth himself. He may have been backwoods nobility by his own lights, but to the East Coast elites, he was practically a caveman. He and his wife Rachel were Scotch-Irish hillbillies, the kind of people who lived in cabins and chewed tobacco. Their marriage was a bit off, too: they had probably cohabited before getting hitched, with Andrew chasing off Rachel’s first husband with a pistol. John Quincy Adams got all sniffy about that. “A convicted adulteress,” his supporters called Rachel. A “common harlot.” They said Andrew Jackson’s own mother was a prostitute too, a British camp follower who’d married a mixed-race man somewhere in those godforsaken backwoods. That was early 19th-century speak for “trailer trash.”

But the people loved Andy Jackson. Adored him. He was the first truly populist, grassroots political figure in American history.

He was also, it must be said, a horrible man. A genocidal white supremacist whose Indian wars and forced removals were what we’d now call ethnic cleansing. He was also a slave owner, a bellicose imperialist, and a demagogue who vastly overstepped presidential authority. Nevertheless, he was a hero to the common citizens of his time and place. And the populist democracy he brought to Washington was probably his greatest (albeit occasionally dangerous) contribution to American politics.

I don’t know how successful Sarah Palin’s political career will be, but I do know she’s tapping into the same vein of popular resentment and working-class sensibility as Jackson. The amazing thing is that she’s a woman. That’s a first in this country: a female politician who functions as an inflammatory, fire-in-the-belly populist hero. A female Andrew Jackson! If she weren’t so politically divisive, I’d say we should put up a plaque.

Unfortunately, I don’t like Palin’s political views much more than I like Jackson’s. I wish to hell she were a liberal, or at least a Democrat. Then I could enjoy this with equanimity. As it is, it feels kind of like watching a woman become the head of the mafia. Part of me is going, “oh, hey, a woman…” But on the other hand, it’s still the mafia.

I will say this: if liberals (or Democrats) want to discourage Palin’s popularity, they need to stop with the double standards and the misogyny. The folks who make up Palin’s base may be misinformed on policy matters, but they’re not necessarily stupid. They can see quite well that Sarah Palin is no nuttier than most of the other clowns in the political circus, especially the Republicans (with a special shout-out to our Democratic Vice-President, who is a talking donkey.) They can also see that despite this basic kinship of clowns, Palin is nonetheless singled out as if she’s some kind of unique inbred subnormal mucus-dripping monster from outer space.

Her fans think this is down to anti-conservative bias, plus some class snobbery. I think it’s mostly sexism, plus some class snobbery. Either way (or both), the snobbery is coming through loud and clear. Which does not bode well for Democrats.

What Democrats (or liberals) ought to be doing is studying what it is that makes Palin so popular. They might start here, for example. They might also think about why and how Palin’s womanliness appeals to so many people. Because it does, and not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s a tip, offered gratis to everyone on the left: repeating over and over again the pet phrases and canned insights you’ve picked up about Palin and her supporters from other leftists (Bible Spice/purity queen/racists/white resentment/teabaggers) is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “lalalala I CAN’T HEAR YOU lalalalala.” It might play well on the blog circuit, but it’s not helping you understand what’s really going on.

Assuming you want to, of course.

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41 Responses to “The female Andrew Jackson”

  1. myiq2xu says:

    Our national leaders have always been leery of too much democracy.

  2. lambert strether says:

    If the Dems had delivered on anything — health care, housing, jobs — there would be a policy bulwark against right wing populism. Now, not so much. Thanks, “progressives”!

  3. Violet says:

    Not sure where I read it last night, but on one of the blogs someone was saying that it’s almost as if Obama’s whole presidency was designed to discredit Democrats. I would say it’s almost as if it was designed to discredit government. “Look, it’s true! We really can’t do anything without fucking it up!”

  4. Adrienne in CA says:

    That was my reckoning in Jan 07 or whenever it was we first heard him praise Reagan.

    Obama is a ringer.

    *****A

  5. Adrienne in CA says:

    Sorry, I mean Jan 08. I wasn’t that prescient.
    *****A

  6. Keri says:

    That’s what I thought too, even before he and his campaign went all out on the misogyny against Hillary. He sat there and praised Reagan to the skies while dissing Johnson, Carter and Clinton- both all who were presidents the showed how government could help disadvantaged people live better lives.

  7. Nadai says:

    It might play well on the blog circuit, but it’s not helping you understand what’s really going on.

    Assuming you want to, of course.

    This calls to mind one of my favorite quotes (by John Kenneth Galbraith):

    “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.”

    I’m expecting to hear a lot of ‘lalala’ these next three years.

  8. Northwest rain says:

    Yes I know all too well about Andrew Jackson’s history. I’m part Cherokee and his name has always been a cuss word in my family. I was taught to call the other party Damnacrats. But then the GOP is also loony.

    More power to Palin — if she were a Dem from some other state — she’d not have gotten anywhere. Because she is from Alaska — when women have to be as sturdy and resilient as the men — she has managed to get political training. She knows how government works — from the grass roots level to the State house.

    I’m reading her book — and as she explains her views on feminism, religion and politics — and the Big Oil Companies — I understand where she is coming from — she is NOT an elitist. She is NOT from Wall Street — and she has family and friends who are plain working class/middle class tax payers. She knows about working hard for a living. And as she says cutting coupons in order to afford diapers. Or changing a baby’s diapers before giving the most important speech of her life!

    She is practical and has a lot of common sense — which is the essential ingredient missing in most of the male politicians.

    But she truly does have experience working across party lines — and she doesn’t seem to force her religious views on others.

    For a politician she seems pretty darn honest.

    Right now I’m reading about the campaign for the White House — through her eyes and the people and personalities involved. She really respects and admires John McCain — and Cindy McCain and Cindy’s charity work.

    People also liked and voted for Hillary Clinton — it is the owners of the Demo party that decided that Clinton (who won the most votes in the primary) wasn’t good enough to head the ticket.

    I think a lot of the people who would have voted for Clinton — because Clinton is more down to earth and practical — WILL vote for Palin. Ironically the GOP primary system is a bit more fair and honest than the rigged Dem caucus primary where the votes were weighted differently, depending on your state and your r@ce. There was no fairness in the number of voters to delegate ratio at the Dem convention. It was rigged — as was the tossing of votes from Florida and Michigan.

    I’d vote for Palin over 0bama — any day — any election. 0bama is a corporate elitist and he wants to be a war prez — just like bush.

  9. Northwest rain says:

    The person this country really needed as President was Hillary Clinton — but the misogynistic leadership of the Dem party (including the “feminist”) blocked Clinton.

    If Palin can break through — and I do believe that the ONLY hope for a woman in that office will be from the GOP side — THEN this might shake the stupid Dems up to support the BEST woman for the job.

  10. gxm17 says:

    Adrienne in CA @ #4, I’m with you and have been saying this from the start. The Big Zero is a ringer, a placeholder for the next Republican president, installation date 2012. My money’s on Jeb. And Palin is the fly in their ointment. That’s why the mouthpieces for our corporate overlords are trying to rip her to shreds.

    Northwest rain @ #9, Amen to that!

  11. Violet says:

    Naw, he’s not really a ringer. He’s just a really good salesman.

  12. Violet says:

    Krugman today:

    The result, then, will be high unemployment leading into the 2010 elections, and corresponding Democratic losses. These losses will be worse because Obama, by pursuing a uniformly pro-banker policy without even a gesture to popular anger over the bailouts, has ceded populist energy to the right and demoralized the movement that brought him to power.

  13. jumpjet says:

    At least some of Palin’s appeal has to come from the way she can channel the anger and discontent of her audience. Anger is powerful in politics, and more power to he or she who can harness it. Liberals need someone who can harness anger. Obama is completely bloodless.

  14. It’s fun to read old blog posts « Donna Darko says:

    [...] Leftist is absolutely spot on with The female Andrew Jackson. What else is new? Click on the links from her post. I will say this: if liberals (or Democrats) [...]

  15. madamab says:

    Oh, snap on the Krugman quote! Is he finally awakening from his partisan stupor? Sounds like it.

  16. Aspen says:

    with a special shout-out to our Democratic Vice-President, who is a talking donkey

    Talking donkeys called. They demand you take that back.

    Her fans think this is down to anti-conservative bias, plus some class snobbery. I think it’s mostly sexism, plus some class snobbery.

    If Palin becomes president, we will find out whether her defining quality is being a woman or a conservative. If she is perceived as having done a sh1tty job at it, it will be because she is a woman. If she does a decent job, it will be because she is a conservative.

  17. RKMK says:

    Gag me.

  18. Violet says:

    Hopium lives! Ladies and gentleman, the kool-aid bowl has been refilled. Elvis is back in the building!

  19. Swannie says:

    Not only has the kool aid pitcher been re-filled..
    I received an ear full of PDS from a cousin I havent been in touch with for a long time…and when I was speaking to him by phone recently. when the catching up was done and the conversation turned to politics.. he saw fit to inform me ( among other things ) of the Machiavellian way Sarah Palin USED her beauty to get ahead ..so Sarah Palin derangement syndrome is alive and well and grows in dark corners like mold and mildew ..

    So Violet ..not only is Sarah Andrew Jackson ..she is also Niccolò Machiavelli in heels …

  20. Grace says:

    I don’t agree with Sarah Palin’s politics or values, but I admire the fact that she is a self-made woman who raised from the bottom and got where she is on her own merits. It’s too bad that she doesn’t seem to realize the need for her to increase her knowledge of policy and history, and work on her speech. She is intelligent and has the work ethic, but doesn’t have (at least right now, although she is still young enough to learn) the well-roundedness and intellectual capability of someone like Hillary. I also hate the mysoginy directed at her. At least Bush was attacked only because of his stupidity and ignorance, not his gender.

  21. Briar says:

    Just wondering if a left winger or a liberal could tap into that vein of working class resentment which fuels popularism. There’s something visceral in the far right, something that draws its strength from pure emotion, usually negative emotion. That’s why it is so powerful and so frightening.

  22. Aspen says:

    If a left winger could focus working class anger toward the actual source of their problems it would be an extra added plus.
    Obama had a chance to do this when he was forced to explain his “spread the wealth” statement during the campaign. He had a golden opportunity to show the American people how in fact the opposite occurs: it’s the working people who have their wealth transferred to the rich. He could have explained that, but he screwed the pooch and went with the right wing meme that proposes there is an ATM machine somewhere in which the Government dispenses rich people’s money to the less fortunate. And of course, this just fueled the right “working class” anger against an amorphous group of leeches who are even poorer and more disenfranchised than they are, but unlike them, those leeches are lazy, worthless and immoral, and deserve their plight.

  23. monchichipox says:

    But come on isn’t there something that sends a tingle down your leg seeing lines and lines of women waiting to just get a glimpse of this woman? If she runs she’ll have a harder time winning the nomination than beating Obama. I know country girls. I grew up with Sarahs. She won’t have any problem getting in the mud, and pushing his face in it with her heels. Something, for some reason, everyone who has run against Obama has been afraid to do. If McCain had fired his staff and put Sarah in charge he probably would have won.

    I found this illustration of Sarah. It’s the latest from one of her fan sites. It just seems so appropriate for this post. Kind of sums it up.

    http://i47.tinypic.com/6pt99j.jpg

  24. SweetSue says:

    I think Palin’s womanliness, not her pulchritude, appeals now because we live in hard times, and in hard times, we look to those who will care for us-women.
    Eva Peron gained a lot of political power when the people were starving. Later, when she wanted to be named Vice President, times were better and Argentinians rediscovered their sacred machismo.
    Same as it ever was.

  25. Violet says:

    I personally think some of it has to do with Scotch-Irish/Southern Highlands culture, which has had a profound influence on working-class culture throughout America. It’s the culture of cowboys and country music and truck drivers.

    It’s also my culture, so I know it. (In its original locale, I might add.) And it’s a functional matriarchy in many ways. My own family is a matriarchy. That’s just how life is. Women are strong and smart and they hold everything together. They’re wise and practical and reliable and they just get shit done.

    But it’s a very pre-feminist sort of thing. And it’s not theorized or articulated. It’s just something built into the substrate of the culture, the way life is lived.

  26. monchichipox says:

    I must admit I’ll have to look up pulchritude.

  27. Violet says:

    Physical beauty.

  28. roofingbird says:

    Great post, Violet. Your thoughts at #25 are right on as well.

  29. myiq2xu says:

    If a left winger could focus working class anger toward the actual source of their problems it would be an extra added plus.

    How many leading left-wingers either are part of or grew up in the working class, and how many are prep-school latte liberals like Obama? Take a look at Obama’s base – “frat-boys” aren’t blue collar workers.

    OTOH – Bill and Hillary (and Sarah) all come from working class backgrounds and haven’t forgotten their roots.

  30. RalphB says:

    “Going Rogue” has went platinum after only two weeks. Harper-Collins increased the printing to 2.8 million.

    It would be nice to find the leftie who could focus some of the working class anger, but I don’t know of anyone who qualifies.

  31. Owen says:

    “It would be nice to find the leftie who could focus some of the working class anger, but I don’t know of anyone who qualifies.”

    Other than Bill? I don’t think there is one….

  32. okasha skatsi says:

    Hillary did a pretty good job of it in West Virginia and environs. And I can personally testify to working-class Hispanics’ enthusiasm for her.

  33. Owen says:

    I meant other than Bill and Hill… but I had to leave the office…

  34. Grace says:

    Just a few corrections on some statements related to politicians’s backgrounds: Bill Clinton was raised middle-class, his grandparents owned a grocery store and his mother was a nurse. Hillary’s father owned a factory and the family lived in suburban Chicago. The only one with a working or lower middle-class background is Sarah Palin.

  35. Violet says:

    Bill Clinton’s grandparents ran a tiny little store. His father was a traveling salesman and his mother put herself through nursing school.

    Sarah Palin’s father was a high school science teacher and her mother a secretary.

    Not much difference.

  36. Aspen says:

    My totally scientific study of the handful of people I’ve talked to in the last few days tells me that the term ‘populism’ has a very negative connotation. It is resented, as being the elite’s use of tactics to appeal to and exploit the desperate and gullible, into supporting policies that benefit the elite. Tactics such as xenophobia/blaming foreigners for crime and lack of jobs etc. Stuff like what Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchannan are known for. People think of this when they hear the word ‘populism’. It’s seen as an appeal to emotion, not to rationality. Certainly, I can see how these tactics are used by both major parties.
    I understand the desire to use the term economic populism rather than economic leftism — because ‘leftism’ has baggage as well. I don’t know if my experience talking to folks about the word populism is common? Despite the immense scientific-ness of my study. Have others had similar experience? I have to admit, I have a lot of recently immigrated friends, and they may have a stronger radar for xenophobia than the general population.

  37. Aspen says:

    Sorry for the double post. major problems here trying to comment. If possible, could you please delete the first one.

  38. Violet says:

    I think most of the terms we’ve been using would have to be replaced for marketing purposes. No, you can’t talk about leftism or populism or socialism or anything like that.

    Also, most of the names people are suggesting for third parties would never play. Nothing with “people” in it (sounds like communism), etc. I mean, our party may actually be the Popular Front Coalition of Feminists and Leftists, but we sure as hell can’t call it that.

  39. Violet says:

    I deleted it. Sorry you’re having trouble. Is it the caching?

  40. Branjor says:

    ***Nothing with “people” in it (sounds like communism)***

    Yeah. Maybe the word “Citizens” would be better to use.

  41. votermom says:

    I think a lot of the people who would have voted for Clinton — because Clinton is more down to earth and practical — WILL vote for Palin.

    *raises hand*
    That’s me!
    My current slogan for 2012 is “Only Hillary can stop me from voting for Sarah.”
    Meaning I’ll vote for Hillary if she runs against Sarah, but for Sarah against anyone else.