Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
FP: Victor Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Hanson: Glad to be here again.
FP: Sarah Palin is, clearly, carving out a national presence right now. It’s not just the appeal of her book, but also her outspokenness on the Copenhagen conference and other issues. What do you think she might be up to? And what is she tapping into? What are her possibilities?
Hanson: I think she taps into a current of populist unhappiness in the country with Washington insiders, Big Money, and condescending elites in the media and popular culture. The Wasilla mom of five, married to the snow-mobile champ, is simply the antithesis of all that. She senses the general disgust with an insider class that has nearly bankrupted the country through insane federal spending and equally insane financial speculation. She resonates in this regard mostly through an authentic middle-class upbringing, the real-world living of Alaska, natural intelligence, spunk and drive that sent one from the Wasilla city-council to the governorship of Alaska—and common sense answers like less government, lower taxes, more self-reliance, and national confidence.
Her can-do “let’s develop our own energy and spend no more than we earn” creed has a reassurance in these days. People root for her. The Ivy-Leaguers in government, whether the lawyer Obama or the economist Summers, haven’t exactly wowed the public with their studied brilliance so far.
Palin feels at ease with Middle America, and in a strange way is the antithesis to Barack Obama. Both are young, and charismatic, and appeal to populist constituencies. But whereas Obama came out of a Honolulu prep school and elite Ivy League hot-house, and had to acquire, quite artificially, his street credentials at the foot of Rev. Wright and in the Chicago scratch-back world of Valerie Jarrett and Mayor Daley, Palin was a true product of the working class and took on rather than swam into the status quo political structure.
That fact was sadly lost in 2008, but it is starting to ring true as her popularity rises and Obama’s declines. Remember, though, these are mostly perceptions still, and Palin will have to give long interviews, do debates, lecture, write, and show a public grasp of the issues in the way that earlier charismatic, non-career politicians like Eisenhower and Reagan could—in contrast to flash in the pans like a Wesley Clark. For 2008 and much of 2009 the left and the media successfully caricatured her as a creationist, white-supremacist, Christianist nut, but that demonization is wearing off. Quite simply, the more the public sees her, the more it likes her—and that’s not true of most politicians like a Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid—or Barack Obama.
FP: Can you expand a bit on what is it that the liberal-Left hates so much about Palin?
Hanson: Well, well, let us count the ways:
1) Feminists resent her stance on abortion, not just her pro-life views, but the fact she delivered a challenged child in her 40s and her teen-daughter delivered an out of wedlock boy; for many professional women on the up and up, those decisions are not just absurd but scary.
2) The elite Left was furious over her populist appeal, particularly her charm, good looks, accent, and appearance. In sum, their view was “don’t hoi polloi know, as we do, that this glitzy thing is a moose-hunting mom with an Idaho BA? To a Maureen Dowd or Sally Qunin, a Christian mom, who hunts, lives in Alaska, and is married to Todd is OK—but not OK if she thinks she can come east and run their US.
3) She’s an interloper outside the normal cursus honorum. Almost all our female columnists, many of our politicians, and several of our TV personalities either married into, or were born into, influence and can trace some of their careers to the wealth or influence of powerful husbands, fathers, and mentors. Not Palin—she had no family or marital connections, no money, no powerful fixer, she’s a genuine up-from-the-bootstraps sort of feminist that, oddly, feminists don’t define as feminist.
4) Conservative, attractive women, with traditional marriages and child-raising, for a variety of reasons, earn media scorn;
4) She scares the Left by her star power; few in America can fill stadia like she can—and that worries the powers that be. Populism is supposed to be a leftist phenomenon, but when a conservative resonates with the folks, that raises concern.
5) Finally, her accent, her demeanor, her poorly prepared interviews with Couric and Gibson all cemented for many intellectuals and cultural grandeess, both left and right, the idea that she was hickish. Many tsk-tsked her in snobbish disdain.
FP: What do you think of Palin?
Hanson: I both admire and worry about her. She has exuberance and natural intelligence, coupled with energy and toughness and a certain fearlessness, and doesn’t seem to be a trimmer, but consistently articulates a common-sense position on the issues. On the other hand, she has so many obstacles in a strictly political sense to overcome. She is based thousands of miles away from New York and Washington. She is the mother of 5 and has little money, or powerful friends. The East-Coast Right dislikes her as much as the liberal elite. With young children, the Levi Johnston mess, the resignation from the governorship, the constant traveling to earn an income for her large dependencies, she is burning the candle at both ends. So I admire her pluck, but again worry that her present frenzied pace is unsustainable.
FP: What advice would you give to Palin?
Hanson: After her book tour ends and she has earned some money, I wish she would hunker down somewhere to write, recharge and contemplate things. A month at Hillsdale College, for example, where, in friendly and supportive surroundings, she could debate, talk to faculty, read and write would be wonderful, or in fact a month almost anywhere she could review issues, have her views tested and debated, and do some in depth reading and discussion would be great.
If she wrote a weekly column or did a bi-weekly radio address, in the fashion of Reagan, that too would allow her to both support her family and at the same time master the intricacies of modern national politics. She has so many gunning for her, that she needs to be proactive. Joe Biden did not know that FDR was not President in 1929 or that TV was still experimental—but given his status, the media shucked “Oh, that’s just Joe!” Obama can be clueless about state geography, a 50-state union, or the basics of US history, but that’s because “he’s tired and has so much on his mind.” Wasilla moms has no such margin of error.
The good news is that she is so energetic, naturally talented, and charismatic, that, with a few weeks prep, she could redo the Couric interview and sparkle. What happened in 2008, was that she went from a supportive populace in Alaska to a hostile prime-time lion’s den, without proper appreciation that she was the antithesis of most of the values and lifestyles of those who would write and comment on her—and they were waiting for her in a way I think she did not anticipate. That said, I think we can already see that she is becoming media-savvy and picking her venues carefully.
FP: Victor Hanson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.