When the Palinist Impulse Collides With Governing

Back when Sarah Palin might have been one elderly heartbeat from the presidency, I described why she held such appeal for the right (boldface added):

While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.” …In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?

In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas).

Booman reaches a similar conclusion (boldface mine):

At bottom, this was a simple honest observation by Sen. Franken. While in the majority, he had assumed that the Republicans’ refusal to attend committee hearings was part of a strategy of obstruction. Now that he’s in the minority, he realizes that it’s deeper than that. Many of their members simply don’t care about the actual job of being a U.S. Senator, which is to mark up legislation in committee hearings. They care so little about it, in fact, that they’re willing to let bills be marked up with Democratic majorities.

To be sure, the chairman won’t let this go so far as to allow the Democrats to hijack his bills by ramming home amendments that he opposes, but he has to take extra precautions and endure unwanted delays to avoid that happening because his colleagues are so disinterested in legislating.

If the Democrats were similarly disinclined to care about their jobs they would never provide a quorum for their opponents and make their work easier to conduct. But the Democratic senators are actually interested in marking up bills on “child pornography victims and public access to government information.”

I think Booman is partly wrong here: Republican senators aren’t interested in governing because that’s not really their job. I guarantee they’ll show up for the bills that enrich their major donors (Got Koch?). But the other stuff? That’s for gulling the rubes. The goal isn’t to enact meaningful legislation, but to offer feel-good utterances and kabuki theater that makes conservatives feel good, even if it doesn’t solve problems. If you don’t believe government can affect most concrete, tangible problems, you’re not likely to show up at all.

Republican senators really do understand what their jobs are. It’s just very different than what most Americans think it should be.

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