Sunday, September 07, 2008
Sarah Palin continues to swing through the media like a wrecking ball. Nick Cohen attacks American liberals for succumbing to hatred, Andrew Sullivan seethes at her long concealment from tough questioning, William Kristol hails her as an example of McCain's courage, Oprah is in trouble for not having her on the show and so on. The point on which all agree is that she is an attempt to activate the Republican 'base'. Peggy Noonan's open mike incident indicated that she thought this was futile as the 'base' is no longer what the Republicans think it is. The 'base' is, I suppose, the God-fearing, if not outright fundamentalist, patriotic, gun-toting, abortion hating working and lower middle classes. If Noonan is right and the 'base' has moved on in a way that the Republicans have not, then it is, presumably, because of Iraq and the perception of the limitations of American power and the economy, not least the oil price. Patriotism and God, however, remain intact so, in spite of everything, Palin may turn out to be very effective indeed. My own view is that, like many others, I am horrified at the prospect of her getting her hands on the nuclear codes, but I guess I feel the same about many politicians. My Palin theory, for what it is worth, is that she is a clear example of the Noble Lie. This idea, derived from Plato, is that the people must be shielded by various mythologies - religion, patriotism, whatever - because only a few high intellectuals can cope with the full glare of the truth. It is said that the neo-cons were much taken with the idea of the Noble Lie, as taught by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and, by the left, that the WMDs in Iraq were a clear example of neo-con, Straussian manipulation. Maybe. But, whatever the potency of its specifically intellectual lineage, I do believe that a version of the Noble Lie is now generally accepted by democratic political establishments. It is a useful theory in a climate of media saturation in which sound bites and mood music are more effective than balanced analysis and in which power-hungry intellectuals are obliged to resort to manipulation - or lying as it is more properly called. The Republican 'base' - real or imagined - is predicated on a Noble Lie: that, with guns and fundamentalist Christianity, American can either conquer the world or render it permanently safe for the American Way. Nobody with any intelligence or experience believes this. Palin - I am assuming she is not Straussian - does, however, and it is the very fact of her evident conviction that makes her such a potent weapon. She offers the activation of the 'base' by saying it is still possible to believe in this particular Noble Lie. In this context, she can be seen to be the puppet of the lying elites, not, as some have suggested, an American Margaret Thatcher.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:56 am