I just read Gross' article. It's long, but well worth taking the time to read.
A lot of us, myself included, have been guilty of dismissing Sarah Palin. We laugh at her gaffes, marvel at the way that she mangles the English language, and deride her for her lack of knowledge on most topics of substance. But here's the deal, Sarah Palin is a very dangerous woman and if we are to neutralize her, the first thing that we have to do is take her seriously.
While we're making fun of Palin, she's methodically increasing her base, travelling through middle America, trash talking the Obama administration, and regularly invoking the name of Jesus. Her base doesn't think that she's stupid; they think that she's one of them, and when you insult her, you insult them.
I'm guilty of it, as are most progressives. The provincial and narrow view of the world expressed by Palin's followers offends me and I express my distaste by asserting that they are devoid of intellectual curiosity, which is just another way for stating that they're stupid. Once you tell people that they're dumb, they just aren't interested in hearing anything else that you have to say.
However, Palin has successfully tapped into the psyche of a lot of Americans, people who identify with her because they buy her assertions that she is one of them. She makes them feel that their view of the world is valid, that their prejudices and narrow belief systems are superior to those of the heathen liberals. Early on she recognized that Obama represents everything that they fear and dislike. When he speaks, they don't always easily follow what he is talking about so they presume that he's speaking some anti-American, anti-Christian code. Palin feeds their fire; she's their leader.
Perhaps Palin's most clever move is the focus on generating the tent revival atmosphere demonstrated at Beck's Restoring Honor rally. Palin has two texts that she regularly cites at her appearances, the Constitution of the United States and the Christian Bible, sometimes interchangeably. Her audiences eat the mishmash of secular law and religious belief as if it were the mythical manna from heaven, secure in their desire to get their country back and the belief that God wants them to have it.
I don't believe Christianity is inherently evil but I do believe that humankind has repeatedly demonstrated our ability to twist the precepts of any belief system to justify the worst aspects of our nature. Misdirected religious fervor soon swells into fanaticism, and history is littered with the horrors perpetrated in the name of religious fanaticism. These people believe that they're on a mission from God and that Palin is their angel of light guiding them to salvation, not just for themselves, but for the entire country. If they have to trample on the Constitution, run undocumented immigrants out of the country by any means necessary, and kill off the liberals in order to enact their vision and get their country back, then so be it.
The saving grace of this country has been that most people who consider themselves to be Christians have never been overly involved in organized proselytizing. There have always been exceptions, but not any significant numbers involved in forcing the word of God on all, just a few souls wandering through neighborhoods and knocking on doors on occasion. However, the Palin/Beck base are a different and dangerous breed, and they have found their prophets in Palin and her acolyte, Glenn Beck.
They are fueled by their fear and discontent; Palin and Beck provide them with answers that fit their view that they have been wronged and that their entire way of life is danger of being destroyed. Every time they hear someone speaking Spanish they fear that the conversation is about them. They deeply resent being unable to understand the conversation, after all, this is their country. So they angrily question, "Why can't these people learn English?" They also provide the answer, "They don't want to learn English!"
The black man in the oval office further confuses and upsets them. He must be up to something nefarious; he can't really be working for the good of all Americans. At the core of the obsession with so-called reverse racism is a subconscious belief that black people must have some desire for retribution. That belief fuels the vitriolic dislike expressed for President Obama and the obsessive beliefs that he is on the side of the terrorists, has plans to destroy the United States, and plans to chuck the Constitution and replace it with a socialist manifesto.
I vehemently disliked most of the policies of the George W. Bush's administration but I can't recall there ever being any assessment by progressives that GWB was intentionally and with malice aforethought attempting to destroy the country. Certainly, there have been accusations that certain actions on the part of past presidents would result in the destruction of the foundational beliefs of this country but never the assertion that the president in question ran for office for the express purpose of destroying America.
At the top of the progressive agenda must be plans to reframe our message to re-engage liberals and progressives prior to the November 2010 elections and to begin to lay the foundation for the 2012 elections. I'm not confident that there is any framing that will sway those who are enraptured of Palin and Beck, and I fear that the Palin/Beck base will continue to grow.
There is a great deal of apathy among progressives and liberals; declarations that Obama has betrayed us abound. Like a petulant child who didn't get everything on his or her Christmas list, far too many of us focus on what remains undone and look past all that has been accomplished. We threaten not to vote in order to teach the Democrats not to take us for granted.
It's time that we start taking Sarah Palin seriously; her base certainly does. If we don't, there may lessons learned in November 2010 and 2012 but we may the ones who are schooled.