The Blog

The Art of the Unintellectual Critique of Palin's 'Insufficient Intellectualism'

2:17 PM, Nov 17, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

There are thoughtful arguments to be made against Sarah Palin's future as a national politician, her persona as a conservative folk hero, her political ideology. Relatively few liberals or critics in the media bother to make them. It's a testament to how thoroughly they caricatured her the first time around, and how little respect she warrants in some circles, that all questions about her are presumed perfectly settled, and serious engagement about her is often treated as a nuisance to be avoided.

To them, Palin is audacious (not in that good, Obama way) and out-of-line to even write a book. Her criticisms of the McCain campaign leakers who anonymously bashed her while the campaign was still going on are "ungrateful." To venture to promote the book is more audacious still, and means she gets exactly what's coming to her in all interviews and coverage, no matter how unfair. The fact that the book she's daring to promote is selling extremely well means more license still to sully the woman from Alaska once again. I've heard each of these sentiments uttered or implied by pundits or reporters in print, on Twitter, or on TV this week.

The thoughtlessness of these critics, who never see the irony in attacking Palin's alleged anti-intellectualism using debunked doctored photos of the governor in a bikini, is crystallized in Ana Marie Cox's review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue today. It is perhaps overly generous to call the Washington Post piece a review. It reads like an off-the-cuff e-mail to a friend with very low standards in e-mail correspondence. It's atrocious, not in its assessments necessarily (of which there are few), but in its laziness. I hesitate to excerpt much of it, because at 379 words, I would quickly be dealing with questions of fair use, but here's a taste:

Rush Limbaugh last week proclaimed "Going Rogue" to be "truly one of the most substantive policy books I've read," though that certainly raises questions about what other policy books Rush has read and by what lights he considers the Palin book to be one. For all I know, it may be true. There may truly be substantive discussion of policy, something that goes beyond the thudding "taxes bad"/"government small" rhetoric that characterizes the moments when Palin turns her personal narrative into a discussion of government workings.

I cannot claim to have completely read "Going Rogue" -- I had to skim the last 150 pages (or more than one-third). I only got the thing into my hands late Monday afternoon with a deadline of early evening. It's terrible, I know, but if I didn't read it all, neither can Sarah Palin claim to have completely written it.

One of the few surprises of the book: For a frontierswoman, Palin really doesn't like smokers.

It's a Washington Post book review, for goodness' sake, not a note you pass in between classes before that book report you totz didn't prepare for. In the print version of the article, Cox is introduced as a national correspondent for Air America who has described Palin as "crazypants with arrogant sauce on top," right before she criticizes Palin's take on campaign strategy as unsophisticated. Feel free to click over and read her devastating, postcard-length critique of Palin's, ahem, lack of substance.

But if you're short on time, skip it, and read our own Matt Continetti's thoughtful review of the same book, also in the Washington Post today-a juxtaposition by which Cox's effort suffers all the more. Sure, I'm biased, so here's a taste of his review by which you can judge:

Through no fault of her own, Sarah Palin has become a sort of political lens, refracting the different ways conservatives and liberals see the world. To her supporters, she is, as she puts it, a "common-sense conservative" who isn't afraid to make moral judgments. To her detractors, she's a moronic zealot who has no place in American public life. The two interpretations are concrete. "Going Rogue" won't do much to change any minds. But for what it reveals about our current political culture, Hans Robert Jauss would say it can't be beat.

I was originally just going to use this post to tout Continetti's review, but Cox's review was so emblematic of the frequent laziness and lack of professionalism that characterizes media coverage of Palin, that I thought it important to point out.

For more from Matt on Palin for the Palinistas in the audience, try his book.