…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Sarah Palin and the Know Nothings
Categories: Commentary, Politics

by Meg White

Here’s a thought: John McCain didn’t pick Sarah Palin to be his VP because she’s a woman. He didn’t pick her because of her adeptness at winking onstage, or her folksiness, or her so-called “family values.”

He picked her because she appeals to the Know Nothing wing of the GOP. I’m not the first to suggest this. For example, check out Paul Krugman’s op-ed in The New York Times in August:

“Know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant — gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: ‘Real men don’t think things through.’”

Whoa, wait a minute there, Krugman. Aren’t you being a little sexist? You forgot all about Sarah Palin!

First a little history: The real Know Nothing Party was a short-lived movement embracing anti-immigrant, anti-naturalization sentiments in the mid-1850s.  Interestingly, by the 1860 elections, most members had merged with the Republican Party.

It’s tough to really picture politics back then, when we still had a Whig party and we hadn’t even had a civil war yet. So try this: Imagine a political party “empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by… immigrants, who [a]re often regarded as hostile to US values.” Tough to envision, I know.

The Know Nothings were nativists, who warned against the “others” in our society. You know, the “exotic” foreigners who may have different religions or upbringings than the majority of those in power.

Palin is doing her best tightrope act on this one. But her coded language is carefully tailored to the Know Nothing wing of the Republican Party, and they’re listening.

Now, the name of the Know Nothing Party is a little misleading. The party called itself the American or American-Republican Party. The story goes that they were so secretive, that when asked about the party’s dealings, members would reply, “I know nothing.” Thus, they became known as “know nothings.”

In today’s political parlance, the phrase “know nothing” has taken on two meanings: nativism and ignorance. Which is why Palin is a perfect spokesperson.

Palin has expressed ignorance on a range of issues so wide, that it’s hardly worth giving the scope of, but here goes:

I’m sure there’s more (feel free to remind me of what I’ve forgotten below), but I’m getting a little worn out just thinking about it. Maybe I should take a page out of Palin’s book and just stop thinking so darn much.

Sarah Palin has taken lack of knowledge to a whole new level and embraced ignorance. She’s said herself that she doesn’t think, er blink, when she has to make a life-changing decision.

I’m sure if you asked Palin in a friendly room if she were anti-intellectual, she’d say yes. She asked a Wasilla librarian what it would take to remove books she found offensive from the local library. She’s against comprehensive sex-education. She wants schools to teach children creationism. She’s anti-science.

Long story short: Palin is not satisfied with simply stemming the tide of her own informational intake. She wants to remove educational opportunities for America’s children as well. And the way she drags her school-aged children around the campaign trail doesn’t inspire much confidence in her educational values either.

There are plenty of happy, ignorant people in this country. But the fact that we have to reach back to the mid-19th century to find a party that embraced ignorance to the degree that we see in today’s GOP should say something about the false correlation between the McCain/Palin ticket and the idea of change for the better.


Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

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