Are you there God? It’s me, a more or less lucid voter. I’m begging you to save my civic soul and cast out the haunting question rattling its chains all hours of the night: What the hell is Sarah Palin’s appeal?

First, a statement of the obvious: Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain’s running mate largely to secure the white middle class woman’s vote.

Permit me to speak in broad strokes here. Like the political minds trying to manipulate the populous, I’m fracturing and stereotyping the crucial social sect so crudely pandered to by Palin’s nomination. I am not going to speak to fact so much as a set of assumptions I believe the McCain campaign is banking on. With a clear mind to the gross stereotyping taking place in this post, as well as the many men and other voting demographics I’m leaving out, allow me to give a Pop Feminist read on what kind of scenario we should fear:

White middle class women are a fearsome political demographic because they are so disproportionately over-determined in the mass market. These women form the first ever and most cogent consumer demographic in the western world—they were the premier consumer citizens before they were ever political players. Furthermore, their chosen items of media consumption since the 19th century have been predominantly sentimental, in the form of plays, films, novels and ballads—these artifacts offer women a vague shared membership in body politic predicated on the inertia of sadness and sympathy for general plight, resolved by individual transcendence in the course of a narrative, almost never the explicit political resolution of revolution (the evils of slavery as the backdrop for life-affirming romance in both Gone With the Wind and Showboat come to mind).

Sentimentality is a feather duster on the junkyard of the human condition. It is a fundamentally inadequate method of handling the plights of our country, but emotive and earnest enough to obfuscate the material circumstances of injustice with personal feelings and alleviate its weeping participants of the burden of real change.Women’s tremendous capacity for their own suffering and empathy for others is a strength in the private sphere, but can be an insidious weakness in the political realm.

Womens consumption of fiction and media has deeply rendered them national subjects who have not been significantly defined as players in politics or shapers of history, but as, in the words of Lauren Berlant “persons who shop and feel”. These shoppers and feelers are the most studied market demographic of all–the political sphere may need only to transpose the tactics of Tide commercials to lure the affections of a great deal of politically ambivalent women.

Much is made of Palin’s illegitimacy on the national stage, the absurdity of her being a feminist and the like, but these outrages are often accompanied by mystified expressions such as “who are these people supporting her?”, “What can they be thinking?”, “How can anyone believe her?” and my own analysis: “This is…just…stupid.”, amongst others. The problem with these proclamations is they shirk the responsibility to understand Palin’s appeal by rendering it somehow unknowable—in essence a product of irrationality, which we, the enlightened left, cannot possibly be expected to comprehend. In stating our current position as such, we evade our responsibility as citizens to understand and counter Sarah Palin’s real appeal –which is not the product of insanity, but the on some level the outcome of feminized sentimental culture that feminists especially must contend with.

It may seem counter-intuitive to cast hard-ass Palin as a sentimental candidate, what with her bulldog in lipstick rhetoric and vibrant Annie Oakley counterpoint to McCain’s embalmed Buffalo Bill, dwelling, as Camille Paglia notes, in sadomasochistic retrograde circa 1967. But there are a number of qualities she possesses that evoke the sentimental tradition, characterized by a conspiratorial union of personal narrative and vague political symbolism which reduce/(elevate?) the McCain/Palin ticket to gesture and symbolism in media– a dangerous prospect indeed when we consider the material power they will posses at this crucial juncture in world history should they prevail.

Palin tipifies what Laren Berlant calls a “prosthetic body”, serving as a vessel for the fantasies and desires of her target feminine demographic who get a “kick” out of her hutzpah. Clinton could not be an adequate prosthetic body, not only because hers was (perplexingly) regarded as unattractive, but because she doesn’t offer the zany crowd-pleasing plot of Palin’s improbable rise. The hardship upon which Clinton’s platform was built is wonderfully absent in Palin’s ascent—light as air, the hockey mom becomes vice president, a wonderfully episodic series of events that consolidates in narrative vague aspirations of many middle class women who– again, prefer feather-duster feelings of disenfranchisement to bulldozer messy political action. Besides, she is geared aggressively toward the sports moms in the American middle class whose lives are often, though not always, small and inconsequential in a political context. The fact of Palin’s rise does not suggest a scary and disruptive transcendence from the world by which they are both wronged and accustomed, Palin legitimates these women’s way of life as political potentials, without suggesting change.

Let me make something clear: most people who hover above “rock bottom” do not want to change the world, they merely want to get through it, “survive it. Until this is understood, the Palin appeal will continue to confuse action-oriented leftists.

Palin is an agent of what Gramsci calls “passive revolution”, that is, an agent of vaguely revolutionary acts that are approved by (designed by) the power-bloc against whom these purported rebellions are aimed—Palin’s “change” platform is in part a play-threat toward the male dominance in politics of which McCain is a notable part. Palin is part of progressive change, but one which can be prepared for and diffused by existing power-players.

The bi-polar tantrum of this election and American politics at large is smoothed over by the personae of its political celebrities. Palin’s offers a feminine narrative that is invigorating and affirming in a way Clinton’s never could be. Complex policy is thus swathed in the gauze of sentimental narrative and three-part theatrics while the urgent need for material change is pushed further and further backstage.

An anonymous senior adviser of the Bush administration told journalist Ron Suskind that truth was “not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create reality. And while you are studying that reality–judiciously, as you will–we’ll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” (Ron Suskind, New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004)

Obama is no stranger to the power of narrative himself. He can be marketed just as aggressively as Palin, but the left wing is plagued by a pesky reverence for “the truth” from which the right is quite liberated. Tra la la! THIS is what makes Palin most frightening: she, like any irresistible dime-novel, is fiction. The power she asks us for, however, is all too real.

Luckily, in this election truth is overwhelmingly on our side and needless of much sensationalism and embellishment. Though let us not imagine that the truth in itself sells– it has to be coated in brighter colors and inked in smarter font than the lies are. Obama needs to Mac her PC, Coke her Pepsi, Bratz her Barbie.

The fate of our nation depends on product packaging. Amen.

(Much of this analysis is inspired by The Female Complaint by Lauren Berlant).

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