Saturday, October 25, 2014
What's New in the New West
Home » Rockies » Montana » Western Montana » Bozeman » Palin Distorts Small-Town America
Having spent my early childhood years in a small town in the Northern Rockies, I have been troubled by the image of small-town life associated with Sarah Palin’s candidacy. The McCain-Palin campaign suggests that to ask probing questions of Palin is to look down on her small-town roots. But that is a distortion and is also untrue to the very small-town values that Palin claims to represent. Small-town America is not a single and unified culture, with everyone thinking the same way. Honest disagreement is possible, and a reality of daily life. Anyone who has ever participated in a church council meeting will understand that people who respect each other personally can confront one another with strong arguments when the group discusses a policy issue that affects the entire congregation.

Palin Distorts Small-Town America

Having spent my early childhood years in a small town in the Northern Rockies, I have been troubled by the image of small-town life associated with Sarah Palin’s candidacy.

The McCain-Palin campaign suggests that to ask probing questions of Palin is to look down on her small-town roots. But that is a distortion and is also untrue to the very small-town values that Palin claims to represent.

Small-town America is not a single and unified culture, with everyone thinking the same way. Honest disagreement is possible, and a reality of daily life. Anyone who has ever participated in a church council meeting will understand that people who respect each other personally can confront one another with strong arguments when the group discusses a policy issue that affects the entire congregation.

The McCain-Palin campaign wrongly implies that skeptical, impertinent questions about Palin’s record, conduct, and knowledge show a lack of respect for her and for those who identify with her. But this suggests that small-town Americans are less capable than the rest of the country of handling the normal give-and-take of political argument. By insisting that to question Palin searchingly is to insult her, the Republican campaign actually belittles the segment of the American population that campaign is seeking to mobilize.

Central to the distortion being carried out by the Republicans is the remarkable idea that individuals who have some things in common with Sarah Palin have everything in common with her.

The real diversity of ideas and values that one can find in Montana and Idaho and other rural states is erased by a huge national organization—the Republican Party—that presents Sarah Palin as the complete embodiment of the small-town American West.

Whatever else the small town of the American West may stand for, one thing I know to be a reality within it is a capacity for personal respect that extends to open disagreement about a great variety of issues.

If we are going to be sensitive to insults, we can say that it is an insult to small-town America, first, to suggest that its citizens cannot connect with a larger, cosmopolitan world, second, to doubt that its sons and daughters often build on small-town values to achieve distinguished careers beyond the circles of their own upbringings, and, third, to hold that its inhabitants are too closed-minded to appreciate some of the things that Sarah Palin is against, even Barack Obama.

I have not lived in the Northern Rockies since I was a child, and I do not want to pretend to be part of Montana and Idaho life today. But let it be said that a small-town, Rocky Mountain childhood is not at all incompatible with a variety of styles of life in and beyond the region.

The Republican campaign’s effort to freeze small-town America into a single cultural unit for which Sarah Palin can be an emblem misses the dynamism of that America as I have experienced it in my own life and continue to see it when I visit Montana and Idaho today.

Small-town Americans, no less than residents of New York or San Francisco, should be glad to have Sarah Palin interrogated just as vigorously as any other candidate for public office.

To settle for less is to make her, and the small-town Americans who see her as a mirror for at least some parts of themselves, into second-class citizens.

With that attitude, the Republican Party actually disrespects the parts of the United States with which it claims to identify.

Guest columnist David A. Hollinger is a history professor at the University of California in Berkeley.

About Guest Writer

Comments

  1. Dave Skinner says:

    Sure, growing up in small towns, where folks have actual names that you remember, where you can play outside until dark without a perceptible threat of abduction and whatnot, helps shape a sense of open inquiry, freedom — intellectual, even academic freedom as it apparently did for Hollinger.
    But I would like to make clear that the sort of safe cultural environment that Hollinger enjoyed in his youth is a function of a certain stability which, yep, doesn’t necessarily require “diversity” to exist.
    There can be communities that grow well-adjusted kids without all sorts of “cosmopolitan” gewgaws and doodads. And in fact, all those diversity doodads can derail the idea of a good upbringing, just as much as intolerant insular provincialism can have negative results.
    So what does this have to do with Palin? She’s not perfect. But on the other hand, she is indubitably a product of her environment, one to which she clearly chose to return after her wild college days. To me, that’s just fine…maybe she will remember where she’s from when she’s making decisions.

  2. Horst says:

    There can be communities that grow well-adjusted kids without all sorts of “cosmopolitan” gewgaws and doodads. And in fact, all those diversity doodads can derail the idea of a good upbringing, just as much as intolerant insular provincialism can have negative results.

    Perhaps there can be, dave; but are there..?

  3. Chaos Tamer says:

    Having spent the better part (or worse part) of the ’60’s in your current place of professional effort, Berkeley, and following its cultural changes and pronoucements for years, I would humbly suggest application of a few “small town values” to that extremely challenging place to “raise” young people, values that Palin doesn’t distort – but perhaps that most of those working against her and some working for her distort – would be a beneficial use of your talents in service to community.

  4. Dave Skinner says:

    Ja Horst, der ist.
    I grew up in one. Two, if you count the military-base environment as another…in Air Force context, the rainbow in blue, so to speak. These were places not big enough to have a right or wrong side of the tracks, and no zoning to enforce such.
    If I have to explain further, then you’ll never understand.

  5. Daryl L. Hunter says:

    David A. Hollinger,
    If I could reverse the assertions you make about scrutiny you must agree then that we on the right are not out of line when we scrutinize Obama about:

    ”¢ William Ayers, Obama’s terrorist friend and political colleague

    ”¢ Obama’s Pastor of twenty years, Jeremiah Wright, likes America just about as much as many of the radicals in the Muslim world.

    ”¢ Obama’s partisan support for his Kenyan Muslim cousin Luo Raila Odinga who was running for President of Kenya ~ http://africanpress.wordpress.com/2008/08/10/senator-barack-obama-in-kenya-obama-and-odinga-the-true-story/

    ”¢ Dr. Khalid Abdullah Tariq al-Mansour a/k/a Donald Warden, a radical Muslim and with close ties to the Saudi royal family and an outspoken opponent of Israel helped finance Obama’s law school education. Oh, and founding member of the Black Panthers. http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/Articles/katalm.html

    David, I could go on but I don’t think that you would think that the scrutiny would be fair.

  6. paparepulcini says:

    A long time ago, David Hollinger and I were admonished by a gentle, but firm professor in our Study of History class to rely on primary sources only. If David spent more time “on the ground” these days, his Lake Woebegone memories might be sorely challenged. From a contemporaneous eyewitness POV, the idea that “honest disagreement is possible, and a reality of daily life” in rural Northern Rocky — has been surpassed and suffused by intolerance. To wit: messrs Skinner,Horst, Tamer & Hunter

    The notion that “small-town Americans are less capable than the rest of the country of handling the normal give-and-take of political argument” is actually more real than apparent. It’s not so much the Republican Party’s “distortion” of rural identity politics as it is how Palin supposedly represents rural Americans AND how they’ve embraced her simplistic arguments.

    Within the past week I’ve been cursed at for wearing an Obama shirt, had two doors slammed in my face while canvassing, and suffered my barber-part-time rancher telling me, “If he’s elected I can guarantee he’ll be assassinated.” Read local letters to the editor and wince at the flatulence of AM call-in radio and you’ll learn that Speaker of the House Polosi’s possible elevation to the presidency is the incarnation of the devil. Never mind the economy. The Iraq War. Or the bone-chiller that is “President Sarah Palin.”

    No matter Ford or Chevy; no matter the lemons they’ve bought; no matter the number of times they’ve gone back to the dealers for recalls — rural people have been swearing by their Ford or Chevy pickups for ever. The hell with Toyotas. Okay, a bit generalized, but I’ve yet to read or hear a confession by any “prominent” person in rural areas (cattle associations officials, county fair or education board members, etc.) confess that they made a mistake voting for “W.” Stand behind Palin they will; no matter if she’s a lemon or is recalled.

    Long time denizens and recent arrivals to the Northern Rockies quickly learn to either keep their mouths shut or, dare to express their opinions and suffer the consequences of being “unemployable” by local businesses. The only islands of sanity, tolerance and equanimity are found in towns with universities. Voting statistics prove it: Democratic Senator Jon Tester lost his own rural county.

    No. Rural Northern Rocky towns ARE single and unified. Unfortunately, it’s them agin’ us. And the Republican Party can have every last one of ‘em.

  7. Daryl L. Hunter says:

    Paparepulcini~

    It is Sarah Palin’s deeds more than her words that inspire small town America. She has plenty of children, yet she chose to not kill her child who she knew would be born with Down Syndrome. She sees a problem, and she rolls up her sleeves and she jumps in to fix it; i.e., city counsel, city of Wasilla, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission then the state of Alaska. She sees corruption and stops it. She can govern, hunt, fish, handle an m-16, parent, adroitly dribble a basket ball, etc., and excel at all of them.

    A few decades ago long before I became a conservative ideologue occasionally while channel surfing I would come across Bill Buckley on Firing Line I would watch for a minute and hear his pompous sounding voice that sounded like Gilligan Island’s Thurston Howell lll, his eruditely, obnoxious, patrician accent and a polysyllabic vocabulary hastily had me concluding he was just another arrogant, egocentric eastern liberal, and had me flipping the channel before I could hear what he had to say. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that I found out that Buckley was the leading conservative voice in America; my haste caused a great delay in my education.

    When Governor Palin went to school in Idaho instead of an Ivy League school in east or west, clearly her brain wasn’t poisoned with the socialism ideal that is so popular with Ivy League intellectuals and academics because of their perceived rightness and fairness of this ideal. This idealism conceptualized in the ivory towers of our universities has been thoroughly thought out and debated then taught to students of said institutions who then debate it among themselves in the universities bubble of intellectual idealistic theory where in their minds it has become right. Then the rightness and fairness of the ideal perpetuates itself among student bodies of our learning institutions by idealistic advocates in rose-colored glasses. Out of these universities come our journalists, policy makers, and legislators. The intellectual aspect of American Socialism is what makes the Democrat Party’s position so popular with pseudo intellectuals, celebrities, and nouveaux riche, it’s empathetic, politically correct, and doesn’t take much thought because the ivory tower guys have done the thinking for them. 89% of our journalists sucked this Democrat Socialist Ideal up like mothers milk in college resulting in retarding their instinct for objectivity, hence, our biased media.

    Sarah Palin completed her education without the socialist indoctrination that is an epidemic scourge in our universities, and she remained one of us.

    paparepulcini, college towns aren’t the only liberal reservations of your adopted region, ski towns also have been taken over and culturally ruined by eastern and California liberals; you will find many Palin haters to sing kum ba yah with. If you look at a red/blue map of the west you will notice every ski county of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and even California is islands of blue in a sea of red where outsiders have moved in and changed the order of things.

    Sarah Palin’s faith, conservative deeds, record of accomplishment and, yes, her “simplistic arguments” appeal to us hicks, maybe because she sounds like us, because she is “of us” Sarah Palin is the cream of the crop of small town America, bright, articulate, courageous, persuasive, confidant and a force to be recognized with. That is why the left has so rapidly developed such a vitriolic hate for her.