A Culture of Personal Crisis

Now that Moosewoman is all over the news these days — Max Blumenthal has an insightful piece about Why Wingnuts Love Her at TomDispatch.

The answer lies beyond the realm of polls and punditry in the political psychology of the movement that animates and, to a great degree, controls, the Republican grassroots — a uniquely evangelical subculture defined by the personal crises of its believers and their perceived persecution at the hands of cosmopolitan elites.

Last fall I wrote that “The Right has pinned on Sarah Palin its fantasies of vengeance on the Left. That’s why they love her.” I still think that, but I also agree with what Blumenthal says about “subculture defined by the personal crises of its believers.”

He brings up Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and why her supposedly conservative followers didn’t blink about it. In a logical world, people who consider out-of-wedlock sex to be evil would be appalled at an unmarried, pregnant teenage daughter. In fact, Bristol’s pregnancy just made cultural conservatives feel more bonded to Palin.

Palin’s daughter’s drama caught vividly a culture of personal crisis that defines so many evangelical communities across the country. That culture is described in a landmark congressionally funded study of adolescent behavior, Add Health, revealing that white evangelical women like Bristol Palin lose their virginity, on average, at age 16 — earlier, that is, than any group except black Protestants. … communities with the highest population of girls who attend so-called purity balls, where they vow chastity until marriage before their fathers in a prom-like religious ceremony, also have some of the country’s highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. In Lubbock, Texas, where abstinence education has been mandated since 1995, the rate of gonorrhea is now double the national average, while teen pregnancy has spiked to the highest levels in the state.

Of course, in these same communities, the response to the crisis is to blame outside forces — media and liberals — and push harder for more of what doesn’t work — more purity balls, more “abstinence only.” Because, in a way, they aren’t really distressed about the pregnancies and STDs as much as by the imagined outside forces that they think are causing their problems. They see themselves besieged, and the pregnancies and STDs are reassuring “proof” that they are beseiged. And they wallow in that self-definition of being besieged, victimized, and ridiculed.

Palin is so well positioned as the darling of the movement that any criticism of her would be experienced by believers as a personal attack on them. In this way, their identification with her through the politics of personal crisis is complete. … The more she is attacked, the more the Republican base adores her.

Right now they’re working themselves up into a snit because of the photograph of Palin Newsweek chose for its cover — a photograph she posed for, of her own free will.

An editorial in today’s Boston Globe says of Palin’s book,

She claims victim status for herself. Her narrative requires that she be a neophyte in perpetual war with the political pros. Kicked around by the vicious media (for her family!), straitjacketed by the McCain campaign, forced to wear fancy duds, Palin is the Pitiful Pearl of her tale.

Remember “true confession” magazines? It’s been years since I’ve seen one, but years ago they were hugely popular. They were full of “first-person” accounts of various personal crises. Most of these were written by freelance writers who just made stuff up, but it was a well-established genre. Palin is starting to remind of of a walking true confession saga.

For most people, Palin’s incessant whining, excuses, blaming, and palpable resentments are a huge turn-off in a national leader, but not to the culturally conservative evangelical subculture. It is the very stuff they are made of.

24 thoughts on “A Culture of Personal Crisis

  1. A perfect analysis that well defines the religious cultists infesting the GOP base. And they SHOULD understand, in their world, that nothing they want will ever occur in this world. Their whole fantasy game is contingent on the payoff at the end.

    To them, anyone not sharing their torment must be in the pack of lions devouring them in the public coliseum.

  2. If you’re going to be accused of being a lion, might as well snack on a handy victim now and then says I.

    The interesting thing about the Newsweek cover choice so many are talking about now to me is that it really does make a pretty solid statement about what Palin is on the national stage. The shamelessly flaunted sex appeal, the blatant display of the flag, the beauty queen smile. It’s like,if you are of the indoctrinated, you see everything you ever wanted to see in politics: an attractive conservative, devout patriot, you know, someone who’s just sooo much better than those stinking commie muslin liberal america haters. For everyone else it’s a fake facade covering someone getting by on talent she just doesn’t have.

    Shorter everything: She’s dumb as a brick. The people who worship her are dumb as bricks. But even if you try and say this nicely, you’re just scared of her and what she stands for or some junk.

    Fuck it, PALIN 2012 (for the GOP nomination)!

  3. Palin’s answer to questions about the infamous Couric question about what she reads is a case in point. Palin says she heard in the question all sorts of implication about Couric thinking she was from some rural ignorant tribe up in Alaska who couldn’t possibly keep up with the news, and her response was, supposedly, coming from a resentment at being implicitly accused of being a country bumpkin.

    I defy anyone carrying her chip on their shoulder to hear that in Couric’s question.

    Ironically, by not realizing that one thing coastal elites do all the time in order to get to know each other is ask “What do you like to read?”, and not realizing that media-saavy voters are curious about where in the vast mediasphere people get their information, she actually revealed herself to be the country bumpkin she says she resented being taken for.

  4. Who in the hell wears pantie hose with shorts???????????O-M-G!!!!!!

    Women over the age of 45.

    Seriously, those are not runner’s legs and, although the woman ain’t hard on the eyes, the legs could use more work if she’s going to show them off. She should also contract for final approval of all images released from any given photo shoot.

    Did they paint the POTUS’s 6-pack on him or does he really have one?

    Me: we’ve always put a premium on the health of our presidential candidates, so now in this image-conscious world, her photo was depicting health as much as sex (I don’t really see the sex in those legs, but I’m female) as was POTUS on the Washingtonian cover. Showing that the VP candidate is healthy should not be seen as a negative. Showing her leaning on (and denigrating) our flag, is a negative.

  5. http://www.ovguide.com/tv/queen_for_a_day.htm

    This was a real game show in the 50’s. Each of several contestants would tell her (yes her – it’s a Queen after all) troubles and what she wanted to help her out of it.

    Then at the end the Applausemeter would measure the audience’s degree of something – empathy? I dunno, as expressed by their clapping.

    Who knew half a century later it would become the model for GOP politics.

  6. I can vaguely remember “Queen for a Day” (it continued on TV until the early 1960s at least). Let’s give Sarah a new washer-dryer combo for all those baby clothes; at least her household help will be appreciative. Queen Sarah, otoh, thinks every shiny prize in the world is her due.

    In other words, the more attention is paid to her, the longer she hangs around. Blecch.

  7. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride to 2012 – not necessarily because of the Mayan calendar, but the US elections. The GOP is going to be ripped apart. Max’s amazing article is exactly spot on.

    The SaraCuda phenomenon is fascinating, scary, sexy, and completely worthy of some sort of biography/sociological/psychological/historical chronical, and Max has provided the first installment.

    I’m reminded of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which was about the “science” of psycho-history. Hari Seldon was Asimov’s wise practitioner of this “science” – as such, he predicted the various turns and challenges his civilization would take in the decades and centuries ahead. This sounds ridiculous in our time, given what we know about chaos theory, and the amount of tumult in the world. Asimov’s psycho-history – based on probabilities of the actions of masses – could not predict the influence a completely unique individual – a “mutant”, as the novel put it – would have on history. Sarah Palin is that one in a million mutant – a weird combination of sexuality, victimhood, heartland religion, simple-minded “solutions” to complex problems, tons of delusion, and a gift for self-promotion. In short, although unique, she’s completely American.

    I’m also reminded of the GOP women who literally swooned for that handsome rich moron, GW Bush. The same thing is going on now with wingnut men. And Gawd, she can shoot! I’d like to see sales figures for Newsweek – I suspect that cover – pantyhose and all – caused a pop in more ways than one.

    I remember “Queen For A Day” and the Applause-O-Meter at the end – a real slice of 1950/60s America.

  8. I suspect, as you have brought up here, that the brouhaha over the picture is just to keep up the whole victim-hood facade. She was running out of things to show how the “liberal media” was just beating her down.

    I think Prejean was trying to play the same card. First there was the whole…”I was just a naive 17 year old thing (applied to both the semi-nude pictures as well as the video/s). That story started falling apart, so she went on Larry King. I watched that video carefully, and I’m convinced that Prejean had planned, in advance, to do a walk-off. I thought it was clear she was just looking for the right opportunity/excuse. Then she couldn’t even execute that properly.

    I’m not trying to change the subject from Palin to Prejean. I hope I’m just pointing out how accurate is your observation based on more than one of these characters. I suspect if Prejean had managed to muster the appropriate expression of indignation and did walk off, everyone would now be talking about how terribly the media treated her rather than about the videos. (It would have at least swung the discussion to some degree.)

    So it’s true…it’s always about being some kind of victim. “The Dems are steamrolling the American Public with their (insert any policy issue here), the liberal media is always attacking us, Hollywood is destroying our values, the Gays are going to destroy marriage, and the list goes on and on.

    Jesse Helms was the father of this. He just didn’t do it constantly, so it was less transparent. You’d rarely hear a thing from him until about a year before the election. Then he would start up with an attack on someone/something. For a long time it was the communists, then it was Castro for a while, then it was the National Endowment for the Arts, then gay people, then AIDS (and gay people), and the poor and under-educated in N.C. kept on voting for him because he cared about the fact that they were under attack by communists/Castro/AIDS/Gay people, etc. Never mind that the guy never once put forward one word of legislation to help deal with their real problems.

  9. Human beings have a deep psychological need to be right and to be in control. With really stupid people like Sarah Palin (she barely got a BA in journalism after bouncing around between 6 schools, for fucks sake!) they realize they will never understand the world, so they wrap themselves in smugness and contempt for intellectualism and embrace religious dogma, since that is impervious to rational examination. As someone says in an earlier comment, Palin is a really, really stupid person and Democrats need to remind the public of that fact at every opportunity. Ask her to release her college transcripts and watch the excuses start to fly!

  10. For longer than I care to think about, that segment of the American population self-identified as ‘right’ has been vomitting what can only be described as incoherent rages. Palin is carrying on what has become a tradition and true to the tradition her rages are incoherent.

  11. Then she couldn’t even execute that properly.

    Try, “You’re too short for that gesture!” — from All about Eve. :~)

    You know wha squicked me the most with that interview? (Well, a lot of things, but…). The way she blithely starts refers to Couric as “the perky one.” That’s the kind of catty insult one shares among friends — assuming the friends are discreet and one is not running for public office.

    Nicknaming someone absent? Not so nice.

    It doesn’t seem to strike her that insulting one interviewer in front of another was…really bad manners. Way to announce “I have no filter at all, and I will be insulting you too as soon as your back is turned.”

    But I suppose we know that.

  12. “Nicknaming someone absent?
    Yeah baby!
    How’s about “Sideshow Sarah”? She ain’t dumb, but she’s crazier than a sprayed bug!
    Great post Maha, kudos to Moonbat and Kevin Hayden!(as well as the rest of ‘yall)

    “I can see Cuba from my house!”

  13. Swami thinks that those purity balls (No pun intended) is a sick behavior. Making a pledge of a sexual nature between a father and his daughter is borderline incestuous, and any guy with half a brain should realize that’s a place he doesn’t belong.

    Gee, why don’t they have purity balls for mother and son, or father and son? How about calling it an Oedipus ball?

  14. Human beings have a deep psychological need to be right and to be in control.

    And when they have no clue how to gain control they’ll find a reason for their loss of control. You can guarantee it will not be them. Their oppressor will be one of their own invention. Simple lies will beat complex truths anytime.

  15. You all have said it masterfully. I can only add that as a masochist I listened to Rush Limbaugh’s interview of Sarah Palin and subsequent verbal wet dream about Sarah Palin today. Let me summarize it for you: the words they were speaking were in English, but they sure had no substantive meaning; while she was supposedly talking about “policy,” but it was just the same cliches as last year’s campaign. It was quite interesting when they talked broadly about the Republican party. She said that having a diverse range of policies within the Republican Party was good, and yet only 2 weeks ago she personally killed the Republican candidate up in New York for being too liberal.

    Basically as the previous commentators have said, the girl needs a new brain… and yet people love her! WHY WHY WHY??? Wouldn’t it be easier just to live in a place where she wouldn’t be taken seriously? I don’t see why we need to even bother letting her travel at all.

  16. I don’t in all cases see personal crisis with each person that would vote for Palin on a presidential or any other ticket. Sure, a large number fit that bill but there are many who have simply carried the old animosities of the school lunchroom into later life…who they sat with, who they didn’t sit with, who they could never sit with and who made fun of them.

    I’d call that a class struggle by and large and a personal crisis for those of them who lose their jobs during an economic meltdown.

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