In a fascinating contribution of hers called The Palin Rorshach Test, Jennifer Rubin notes that Sarah Palin, the Alaska Governor currently running for the White House with some old guy, is far less interesting than the discourse and debate she has inspired. Rubin’s column explores the real differences between Palin supporters and Palin skeptics…then it delves into the skeptic side of that schism, and takes a look at what truly motivates those who so recoil from Caribou Barbie.
Sure, there’s a strong suspicion that many in the anti-Palin camp are posturing to ingratiate themselves with the Washington cocktail set. (One defender of Palin recently said to me of Palin opponents: “They want to be above the respectability bar, not below it.”) But I will accept for sake of argument that most advocates on both sides are sincere. And I’ll ignore for a moment that a number of Palin skeptics may have another candidate already in mind for 2012. So what’s the real difference between the sides?
I think it breaks down into “Players” and “Kibitzers.”
The Players are those who engage in politics not simply as an intellectual exercise but as a sport — a combat sport. They appreciate the need to sell and engage voters. They like the rough and tumble of campaigns. They understand the point of it all is to “win, baby, win.” And because they see politics as a group activity they are attuned to the audience — the voters. They watch the crowd, not because the crowd is “right,” but because without the crowd (voters), this is all an academic exercise. It is not hard to see why talk show hosts fall into this category. They, after all, make their living engaging the public and understand precisely what it takes to hold their interest.
That is not to say that the Players don’t care about ideas or the message. To the contrary, because they see the message of conservatism as a valuable and potentially winning vision they are extremely attuned to finding the right messenger. If you trust the message to the wrong candidate you get 1996, or worse.
On the other side are the Kibitzers, those who don’t hold office or run campaigns or much bother with real voters. They write books, tell us what is wrong with conservatism, and scold the poor slobs who run campaigns. They lack any visceral sense of actual conservative voters. Their bent is decidedly academic and their approach to politics is sterile. If you can simply come up with the ideal blueprint, go on Charlie Rose’s show, and write a column for the New York Times or Washington Post, the light will go on, the conservative movement will be saved, and they will earn the applause of their peers.
Now, some of the Kibitzers, truth be told, don’t care much about ideas: it is sentiment and word pictures that catch their attention. They’d rather toss around elegant phrases unmoored to any reasoned argument — slip the surly bonds of analysis, as it were — than mix it up in the hurly-burly of real electoral politics. [bold emphasis mine]
Yup, that’s Yin and Yang. The Yin allow their social skills to atrophy until a very seasoned age, so they can concentrate on making things work. The Yang allow their functional skills to atrophy indefinitely, so they can concentrate on socializing. This thing we call “The Right” in our country is predominantly Yin while The Left is predominantly Yang, but each side of the left-right divide is a composite of unlike parts.
In other words, there is a sprinkling of Yin in the left. Liberals do get things built. Al Gore’s a great example of this.
And there’s a sprinkling of Yang on the right. This is the phenomenon Rubin is noticing. Most conservatives are concerned with substance, and just a few are concerned with style. These are the folks who’d prefer to “toss around elegant phrases unmoored to any reasoned argument.” And they do not like Sarah Palin, not even a little bit. They liked John McCain way back when, in the olden days, when the New York Times liked him. Palin offends them, and not just a little.
It’s the stuff she does. She’s a “get it done” gal. When she fires someone, there’s a reason why — she wants ’em gone. She doesn’t want to just go through the motions of firing them. And if you get in her way, she’ll fire your ass too.
The Yang are not so burdened by what causes what, and what’s a consequence of what. That isn’t their world. Being superior communicators, want to replicate themselves in others. These are the people who stop you from doing something “the wrong way,” but can’t tell you what awful consequences will be conjured up should you continue to do things that way. They are schooled in procedure, and not in cause-and-effect. Internal to any given culture, most of the social problems develop from Yin and Yang having contact with each other too quickly, too intimately, and without adequate…buffering. For better or for worse, this apparatus we call the “conservative wing” falls under “any given culture.” Hence the divide that has come to Ms. Rubin’s attention.
But the whole country is divided this way right now. It is reaching a tragic zenith.
Since no one but the Yin can make something work that previously did not, it’s up to them to build up a society. And no one but the Yang has any desire to replicate their own behavior in others, therefore, it’s natural that once things are comfortable and functional, the Yang take things over. With no challenges left to a mature and evolving society, eventually, they succeed at this…and then such a society becomes all about commisserating with one another, all about empathy. At such an event horizon of societal maturity, that society will forsake the values that were necessary to getting it built. Unfortunately, what’s needed to build something is identical to what’s needed to maintain it, so this high level of societal maturity will always turn out to be cancerous. The Yang, therefore, will always have it in their destiny to ride such a maturity back downward again, into the ground, as they seek to obliterate or convert anyone who isn’t like them.
The United States is at a very high level on this bell curve of societal maturity. Out here on the west coast, I can say that this spot of earth on which my fanny is sitting right now, when it was trod upon by (European) people for the very first time just a couple centuries ago, the paramount concern was starvation; after that, rattlesnakes. Here we are, just one or two clock-ticks later. Five generations, perhaps six or seven. And we’re worried that Starbucks might have put the wrong flavor of syrup in our lattes. It’s more common for schoolchildren to be held back a grade over concerns about their “social skills” than about their academic achievement.
Everywhere you look, someone’s calling someone else stupid.
But look what Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe had to say this late in the last presidential election…and if you think anything’s improved since then, I’ve got a bridge to sell you…
Gallup found in January 2000 that while 66 percent of the public could name the host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” only 6 percent knew the name of the speaker of the House. Last year, a Polling Company survey found that 58 percent of Americans could not name a single federal Cabinet department.
The ignorant can be found in the highest reaches of academe. Of more than 3,100 Ivy League students polled for a University of Pennsylvania study in 1993, 11 percent couldn’t identify the author of the Declaration of Independence, half didn’t know the names of their US senators, and 75 percent were unaware that the classic description of democracy — “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” — is from the Gettysburg Address.
These tidbits are nothing new. Or old. They’ve been going on for awhile, and they’ve always been remarkable given this long-running crescendo of our political-argument din. It seems every single year we make just a little bit more noise about things compared to the year before. Can we really be that ignorant of the essentials of the subjects that so thoroughly capture and hold our passions?
Can you really have that much heat with so little light?
It would seem the answer is yes. But only in a society that has ripened to the point where the cells that make it up, are scrumptious…juicy…heaving and undulating…ripe to the point of rot. Ready for an unstoppable malignant spread. Near the apex, ready for a complete Yang-takover, and the subsequent ride downward into chaos, like in the closing chapters of Atlas Shrugged, like in the fall of Rome, like in the sinking of Atlantis.
Like a lawn dart, straight into the ground.
The natural consequence of forgetting, from sea to shining sea, what it takes to get a useful thing built and what it takes to keep it working.
Are we there. Are we approaching the apex, or past it.
That’s what this election is about.