I know this because a friend on Facebook linked to a Huffington Post article and asked, “Does anyone really care what Bristol Palin thinks about anything?” That’s a question worth a little consideration.
Bristol Palin gets attention because she is Sarah Palin’s daughter, and one might also ask why anyone should care what Sarah Palin, a has-been political figure given to marginally coherent remarks, thinks about the issues of the day.
I understand why Fox News would quote Sarah Palin, because she caters to the diet its audience prefers.* I also understand why the Huffington Post,** Salon, and Slate quote the Palins, because the liberal outrage machine is every bit as dedicated to stirring up the animals as the conservative apparatus. Both mother and daughter serve to supply that momentary energizing jolt of rage that so many readers on both sides of the divide appear to require.
But we should consider mother and daughter separately. Sarah Palin, after all, was elected to the governorship of a state and campaigned, however laughably, as the vice presidential candidate of a major party. She has sacrificed her reputation, but she had one to lose.
Bristol Palin, thrust into the limelight by getting pregnant while unmarried during her mother’s vice presidential campaign, subsequently embarked on a short-lived reality television show—the latest manifestation of the American eagerness to make money without actually working—and became pregnant a second time while serving as a representative for an abstinence campaign. It’s your choice to decide whether she is a comic figure or a pathetic one.
But I think that the reason to pay any attention to her is that she is also a representative figure: a young person of slender education, modest abilities, and deep resentments. There are multitudes like her among us with simplistic beliefs based on shaky information and unexamined prejudices.
Many of them vote, and they are not going to fade away. Some way has to be found to address their concerns without hysterical misinformation. These people’s belief that their country is being taken away from them, their anxieties about a multicultural society personified by Obama, have been exacerbated by the economic slippage of the middle class. One issue is connected to the others. Demagogy is easy; governance is hard.
*I don’t generally read Fox News myself, having outgrown my taste for fantasy literature in adolescence. I’ve lately taken to looking in at The American Conservative. I don’t necessarily agree with the arguments there, but its writers do not manifest symptoms of hydrophobia. See, for example, Rod Dreher on “The Ahmed Debacle.”
**I don’t pay much attention to the Huffington Post either, holding with Dr. Johnson that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”