The most worrisome feature of this election is not that Barack Obama may have too little experience or that John McCain may have too much of the wrong kind but that our politicians don’t understand the Sarah Palin phenomenon. Everybody has had a good time with “caribou Barbie” moose burgers, hairdos and those cornball “you betchas.” However neither candidate is addressing the middle-class anxiety that the Palin popularity represents.
Although she is dismally unprepared to be vice president let alone president, she speaks for an anxious middle class that has had to stand by, powerless, as Washington and Wall Street deregulated, gambled, lost spectacularly then demanded a trillion-dollar bailout for their risky behavior. She represents angry taxpayers duped into paying for a long expensive war that was billed as short, cheap and brilliant. She gives voice to anxious retirees who have seen their pension and savings disappear, homeowners seduced by mortgage lenders’ promise of ever-increasing home values, soldiers maimed in the war but uncared for on returning home, veterans promised then denied benefits, discouraged parents sending children to failed schools and residents told the economy was in great shape when Washington and Wall Street knew it was tanking. She speaks for a betrayed middle class who believed corporate promises that working harder would save their jobs from outsourcing.
These are the people she attracts, a middle class that feels frustrated, angry and fearful about the future because the government appears to be working against them and for the wealthy at every turn. The irony that Palin is a member of the same party that legislated against them is lost in her powerful campaign rhetoric legitimizing their anger and anxiety. For many in the middle class she represents the only way to fight back against political forces that have ignored their needs for a very long time.
Sure, she’s angry but she is the only one talking directly to people who have lost significant economic ground and are now on the verge of losing middle-class status.
Yes, she sometimes garbles her syntax but her meaning is crystal clear to those people flimflammed by the economic double speak coming from the president and his corporate cronies.
Yes, her slogans are often over the top but they give a voice to a middle class unable to make Washington and Wall Street listen to their fears about present conditions and the bleak future to which it may lead. Sarah Palin is a lightning rod for people who feel they have been patronized and used by both parties and to ignore them because of her style is dangerous.
The middle class is being eroded faster than the polar ice cap and neither democracy nor capitalism can survive without a strong middle class. A large, vibrant and respected middle class has always been our strength. It is what has made us a world leader. Industrious people have always wanted to come to the U.S. where opportunity and upward mobility assured them participation in our middle class. This is what has given us wealth and moral authority in the world.
Wall Street needs the wealth created by Main Street to survive not the other way around. Wall Street merely plays with this wealth. It doesn’t create it. Now the middle class has hit really hard times brought on by policies that favored Wall Street over Main Street. They are angry and afraid and nobody seems to be paying attention to the one person articulating their feelings.
Sarah Palin has a tenuous grasp of geography, history, diplomacy and the idea that questions require complete answers. This does not mean we can ignore the more subtle meaning of her appeal and what it signifies for our country. A strong middle class is vitally important to the survival of the United States as a capitalistic democracy. Right now the middle class is losing ground in ways that will bring our beloved country dangerously close to an oligarchy. Democrats, Republicans, Washington, Wall Street, voters: You have to address the middle class anxiety that Sarah Palin taps into or she may be president.
Janet M. Alexander of Old Town is a retired special education teacher.