Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Palin, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:17 am

A good American political speech always has a strong component of patriotic reverence for America that pleases the ear and stirs the soul. The best of them explain the United States in terms that all of us can understand, and touch a deeply felt wellspring of love of country that resides in most of us just below the surface.

But talking about America in this fashion - what I will dub “Patriot Speak” - carries with it dangers as well. Not every politician can do it and sound the right note of honest, guileless, wholehearted love of country. Not all can strike exactly the right note of pride and humility, sincerity and cornpone earnestness, emotionalism and an appeal to reason and logic. It’s a balancing act that, when done correctly, can bring an audience to its feet in tears. When done poorly, it is indeed cringe-worthy.

In my lifetime, there were two politicians who had the ability at a drop of a hat to give a stemwinder oration guaranteed to fan the flames of patriotism among those within earshot. The first was Hubert Humphrey, a gigantic presence when he spoke despite his diminutive stature. This was a man who, when he spoke, was simply too big for the TV screens of the time His was a speaking style from a gentler age, when flowery language and exaggerated metaphor alternately uplifted his audience and invited them to despise the same enemies. Reading Humphrey’s famous 1948 convention speech in favor of the Democratic party’s civil rights plank, you have to remind yourself of the time it was given, as well as the temper of his audience:

For all of us here, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole two billion members of the human family, our land is now, more than ever before, the last best hope on earth. And I know that we can, and I know that we shall began [sic] here the fuller and richer realization of that hope, that promise of a land where all men are truly free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely well.

My good friends, I ask my Party, I ask the Democratic Party, to march down the high road of progressive democracy. I ask this convention to say in unmistakable terms that we proudly hail, and we courageously support, our President and leader Harry Truman in his great fight for civil rights in America!

The speech electrified the convention - and drove Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats to the exits. Rarely has there been more historical proof of the power of the spoken word in politics.

Funny thing - if you listen to that speech, it doesn’t sound the least bit awkward or forced. You knew that Humphrey’s commitment to civil rights was in his soul, that it wasn’t just some position he took for political expediency. And when he spoke of America in such reverential tones, the “mystic chords of memory” were well and truly plucked in heartfelt fashion.

The other politician who could pull of a patriotic oration - probably in his sleep - was Ronald Reagan. I say that not to denigrate the Gipper but to simply point out what his biographer and other observers have said of him; Reagan was the living, breathing embodiment of American values and a particular kind of Americanism. It was an old fashioned kind of Americanism, perhaps not as relevant in 1980 as it was in 1950. But few cared about that. It’s how his audience felt that counted and there was no better politician at pulling people in and making them feel good about loving America. After a decade or more of ordinary folk being told that their patriotism was out of fashion, and even dangerous, Reagan told people it was ok to love America and to show it.

(Obama is not bad at all with Patriot Speak. But his rhetoric about change short circuits the connection to the past, ["hearkening to patriot graves,"] that is absolutely vital for his words, no matter how well delivered, to really resonate with a lot of people.)

But what if the politician may genuinely feel this love of country but, when trying to speak about it, comes off insincere, and even fake? Nixon’s efforts in this regard always grated. Carter’s too. Nixon never sounded real to me saying anything while Carter’s simpering, syrupy, orations always fell flat. Clinton rarely tried Patriot Speak beyond the pro forma utterances on formal occasions. Both Bushes were horrible at it, although #43 had his moments, such as his speeches after 9/11. I think in order to truly carry such sentimentality off, you have to be a first class orator - something both Bushes were definitely not.

Not so Sarah Palin, who may not be an “orator” in the classical sense but has won praise for her ability to connect at an emotional level with her audience. Evidently, Palin was a huge hit at Daytona this past weekend where they were running one of the most exciting sports events of the year; the Daytona 500.

I am not a NASCAR fan but what’s not to love about Daytona? If you doubt me, it’s evident you have not seen the race in Hi-Def and digital surround sound. Awesome.

But as a cultural happening, Daytona is where “real America” goes to party. I put “real America” in quotes because that is how they view themselves, not necessarily because it reveals any profound truths about who or what constitutes “real America.” Are they more “real” than a bunch of snobby upper east side writers who get together to talk about silly, pretentious things like when their next book that no one will buy is coming out? You betchya. Otherwise, not so much.

The former Alaskan governor was mobbed at every appearance. And in this sycophantic piece in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Palin let loose with a barrage of Patriot Speak that rang hollow and insincere:

“This is awesome,” said a slim Palin, wearing designer jeans, a smart charcoal coat and sky-high black stiletto heels. “It’s an All-Americana event. A good, patriotic, wonderful event that’s bringing a whole lot of people together. I think it’s good for our country.”

When asked what a trip to a swing state like Florida does for her political ambitions, the former Alaska governor said, “Haven’t thought a darn thing about the politics of this. I’m thinking about this good, active, speed-loving event that a lot of Alaskans, too, are really into. We’ve got our snow-machine races up there, and this is, of course, on a much greater scale, same type of sport though, same type of breath-taking, speed-loving, All-American event that we like to see up north.”

Palin doesn’t ordinarily have this effect on me. I can usually watch her and marvel at a speaking style that makes her so approachable, so homey. But this sort of Patriot Speak makes me cringe in embarrassment. And the idea that she hadn’t thought a “darn thing about the politics of this” made me want to puke. It’s clear that unlike Humphrey, Reagan, and many others, that she disrespects her audience, cynically manipulating them rather than showing deference to their deepest feelings. Only those already predisposed to love anything that comes out of her mouth can read the above and believe she is expressing anything genuine, or honest in those words.

Her words remind me some of the things I read on comment threads and forums on the right where some conservatives identify themselves as “patriots,” - actually referring to themselves as such - while spouting that anyone who disagrees with them is, by definition, not a patriot. I always thought that it was up to others to determine whether you were a patriot or not. Awarding oneself that designation always smacks me as prideful.

If I concerned myself with the matter, I might recommend that Palin work on her “Patriot Speak” or she will not succeed in broadening her support beyond those who already worship her. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Those who want to see through her act have largely already done so. Those that remain aren’t listening anyway.


  1. Interesting point, there really haven’t been many in recent times capable of such skills. But one thing I would say is that I am sure that when Reagan & Humphrey spoke in patriotic terms outside of political speeches but instead at normal events(e.g a quiet day out) there were probably a few cringe worthy and embarrassing moments.

    Comment by montee — 2/16/2010 @ 11:26 am

  2. That’s the most innocuous generalized Rotarian speak imaginable, and you have a problem with that. Against the backdrop of an administration, where you can’t keep your thermostat at 72 degrees, or drive the right kind of car.
    Yet the same rules don’t apply to them

    Comment by narciso — 2/16/2010 @ 11:50 am

  3. Hi Rick

    I agree with your comments about Humphrey and his essential integrity. I also agree that patriotism is hard to put into words and those words are frequently unsuccessful when you claim the word for your own. I don’t even think MacArthur (who was a patriot but had an outsized ego) called himself a patriot in public. I am almost certain Eisenhower did not. I would be floored if George C. Marshall did. That’s three generals, lots of other people are true patriots too and don’t beat a drum.

    But I think you are too hard on Sarah in this case. The response seems directed entirely at NASCAR and seems to me appropriate. Her aver that she isn’t there for politics is also boilerplate. Any politician who is thought to be running for office will always be asked a variation of that question and they will always answer as she did, more or less. It sounds to me like she is saying she is there for the event and not on a campaign swing. A “let’s talk about that later” type of answer.

    Comment by Jim — 2/16/2010 @ 12:20 pm

  4. Patriot, like the words/terms “honest,” “good looking,” “has integrity,” etc., is an attribute that others apply to a person, not that the person applies to one’s self, unless they are self-promoters.

    Comment by B'ham — 2/16/2010 @ 12:27 pm

  5. I am so tired of her dumbed down speak. Like she has to talk slow and hokey so we get it, that she is the embodiment of patriotism.

    Great she loves her country, we all know this, good for her. So do I and I can articulate a sentence too. She should try it.

    Please people get off the Palin Bandwagon.

    Comment by Jenn of the Jungle — 2/16/2010 @ 1:00 pm

  6. To add to B’ham and Rick’s observations, self-applying those designations is in most cases proof that the labels don’t apply.

    What Palin needs to “improve” her P-speak is to indulge in a little moderation. It seems like just about every comment out of her is chock-full-O-nuts with buzzwords and trigger phrases. It makes the dialogue sound absolutely forced, since nobody talks like that in the real world. If you are going to have brightly-painted oratory, either have it in a formal setting like a convention speech (where such language is somewhat expected) or you have to build to it, as if the emotion and passion slowly (and naturally) built up inside you over the course of the conversation.
    By making every utterance a speech, she emphasises the perception (correct or not) that she doesn’t really have anything to say except pre-arranged talking points. It sounds far too forced — and by definition forced implies it isn’t genuine or natural.

    Comment by busboy33 — 2/16/2010 @ 1:05 pm

  7. She was describing the event, they were some off the cuff remarks, she wasn’t talking about herself. I know it’s considered an embarassment to speak unapologetically about
    those things that would have been considered unexceptional
    even thirty year ago

    Comment by narciso — 2/16/2010 @ 1:51 pm

  8. It is rather simple: Palin will run, or not. If she runs, she will become the GOP candidate, or not. If she is the candidate, she will win, or not, against Obama. If she is invited onto the ticket as a VP candidate, she will be on the winning team, or not.
    We get exactly one vote apiece in the election; I will not vote for Obama/Biden, regardless of the invectives against Palin.

    The most anyone can do now is to make her decision to run a bit harder, the primary decisions to vote for her harder, and the GOP decision to select her as the final candidate/or running-mate harder.

    One can conclude then, that Palin-bashing now has this precise intent: rightly or wrongly, to make her road harder with the voters between now and 2012.

    My guess is that her popularity with the masses of rightwing voters will not be shattered at all by her critics on either side. She will be outrun by Romney, however, for President (if he runs) as he has recognizably much greater governing experience, but she just might make it to his VP slot on sheer voter attractiveness.

    Comment by mannning — 2/16/2010 @ 2:22 pm

  9. Well let me get this out of the way first, why is it that every female politician has to have their wardrobe mentioned? Do we get a notice of male politico’s and what color suit they are wearing, cuffs or no cuffs, in stories? No. So let’s let that double standard drop, please.

    I saw this quote from Palin earlier:

    “It’s an All-Americana event. A good, patriotic, wonderful event that’s bringing a whole lot of people together. I think it’s good for our country.”

    First off I do find her too chock full of phrases to be taken seriously, or that she is genuine, she just comes off to me as another kind of politician taking advantage of something she is good at. For that I don’t begrudge her anything, I wish more people did what they are good at, but that she tries to come off as being so selfless about it when it seems more promotional, I don’t buy it. I also don’t have the foggiest what an All-Americana event is, does that mean its good, patriotic and brings a whole lot of people together? Who defines that? I could say that about my neighborhood block party, if someone raised a flag or said the pledge of allegiance. Getting people together is nice for our country, unfortunately, many people in either party such as Palin and Obama somehow end up driving more apart than they bring together. By that experience neither one is patriotic or an All-Americana event.

    Comment by Boy 0 — 2/16/2010 @ 2:59 pm

  10. Whats equally troubling to me is the possibility that Palin is not cynical and calculating with the “patriotic” lingo.

    Comment by Eric — 2/16/2010 @ 9:27 pm

  11. Re:”…I am so tired of her dumbed down speak. Like she has to talk slow and hokey so we get it…”
    You assume she is talking slow on purpose; maybe it’s just the natural cadence of the dim witted. DEE

    Comment by Dee — 2/17/2010 @ 6:48 am

  12. It is amazing how much celebrity is confused with accomplishment in this country. People are enthralled that Sarah Palin draws large crowds and much of the candidate Barack Obama mystic was his ability to draw large, adoring crowds.

    Larry the Cable Guy had about 30,000 people show up for a comedy show at the University of Nebraska. Does this amazing fact now allow him to run for President, or that his political musings gain importance? I don’t think so, but he is just slightly below the razor thin levels of political accomplishment of candidates Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, Obama and Palin share one other major factor: The only thing they seem firmly committed to is an overweening sense of self-importance and self-promotion.

    Get er done!

    Comment by still liberal — 2/17/2010 @ 10:24 am

  13. @narciso:

    “She was describing the event, they were some off the cuff remarks, she wasn’t talking about herself.”

    That’s where you are right and wrong. This may fit the liter definition of “off the cuff” (not prepared) remarks:

    “I’m thinking about this good, active, speed-loving event that a lot of Alaskans, too, are really into.”

    as she’s clearly Mad-Libing a pre-selected list of buzzwords (good, active,speed-loving). Hell, she used “speed-loving” in each sentence. Her words were prepared — the actual sentence was spontaneous.

    And she literally didn’t talk about herself since she never said hyer own name, but she did say “Alaskans” and “we” explicitly 5 times in two sentences, and implicity at least twice more.

    Just being spontaneous and not talking about herself? Could’a fooled me.

    But she wasn’t talking about herself, or delivering canned GOP soundbites. No sir — she’s totally not a politician. She’s so real and just talking her mind. In fact, I’ve had this exact same conversation with my friends sitting around and talking NASCAR, so it feels so natural and not “fake politician” at all. We all refer to Nascar as that “good, active, breath-taking, speed-living slice of Americana”. Usually around the fifth beer. That’s about as “political establishment” as a photo of you kissing a baby at the State Fair.

    I have real trouble believing you actually believe conversations like that are “real” as opposed to the same “politician-speak” that every single politician has done since the dawn of politics. By definition that’s not being “unapolegetic”.

    btw . . . “unapolegetic”? That’s one of those buzzwords too.


    “I will not vote for Obama/Biden, regardless of the invectives against Palin.”

    Fair enough. My vote in 08 was a “not vote for zombie McCain and Palin” democratic vote (as it will be in ‘12 if she gets on). Sometimes, for whatever reason, people end up on your “no” list. If Obama is on your “no regardless of what he says or does” list then our two votes are pretty settled even at this early point (again, assuming Palin runs/gets on ticket).
    If I were a betting man, I’d put a few bucks on “Romney not outracing Palin” but just because I assume the majority of any large group is stupid. On paper, Romney may be the more qualified candidate — but is that sort of common sense logic really what guides a majority of votes? Sadly, I suspect not. On this one though, I would love to be proven wrong.

    @still liberal:

    “Larry the Cable Guy had about 30,000 people show up for a comedy show at the University of Nebraska. Does this amazing fact now allow him to run for President, or that his political musings gain importance?”

    President? Probably not. Gouvenor? I could see it.
    His musings gaining importance? What do you think would happen if Larry The Cable Guy wrote a book of political reflections? You think that crowd of 30,000 might buy one or two? Multiplied by a hundred shows across the country?

    That’s why (like I told Manning above), I personally think Sarah The Cable Gal wins against Romney, just because “I like this fictional character because they are so real” seems like an acceptable way to live your life nowadays.

    Comment by busboy33 — 2/17/2010 @ 3:35 pm

  14. She’s a pilot, runner, hunter, snowmachine rider, her basketball playing is why they call her barracuda. To everyone else it would seem forced, imagine Romney at
    NASCAR, imagine Kerry, not realistic.

    Comment by narciso — 2/17/2010 @ 7:39 pm

  15. Is it “authentic” that she’s at NASCAR? Sure. Why not? Lots of people like NASCAR.

    But is her being there authentic because she’s went there as a NASCAR fan, or is it fake because she went there to plug her and the NASCAR demographic? Well, given that here comments sound completely engineered, thinking its engineered seems reasonable. Thinking that she’s really a fan, but can’t talk about something she’s a fan about without breaking into prose, is just silly.
    Let me ask it like this: As a gouvenor, maybe I like state fairs. Maybe I like other people’s babies, erven like having my picture taken while I’m kissing other people’s babies. Some people do. So me, as a campaigning gouvenor, going to State Fair and getting my picture taken kissing babies might just be totally spontaneous, not engineered to manipulate people for my political benefit at all.
    Maybe. Could be. Or it could be the same standard manipulative political trick, the one so transparent its become the standard for a politician sucking up.
    Think about how rediculous this is — you believe she’s being honest because she’s an honest person, right? You know she’s an honest person because she told you (you don’t know her. you never met her for more than a meet-n-greet), So her saying things that sound like campaign speeches can’t be campaign speeches, because she told you to believe her and that its not just campaign speeching.
    So you trust her to tell you if she’s lying. I’m sure if Romney went to Daytona he’s say he really hates this whole car racing thingy, its so dirty and all, but he figured he had to put in some facetime. Yeah, I’m sure that’s what he’d say.
    The worst thing is . . . .Romney would say something that actually made you think he really liked it.

    Comment by busboy33 — 2/18/2010 @ 12:57 am

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