Friday, October 10, 2008

An Open Letter to Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia, though an Obama supporter, really likes Sarah Palin and is ridiculing anyone who disagrees.

Camille: You say, "People who can’t see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism — the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary." Then, in an astounding and head-spinning paragraph, you compare Palin's tortured expression to that of your Italian-American relatives, the "expressiveness of highly talented students in dance, music and the visual arts," and finally, to Shakespeare, "the greatest improviser of them all at a time when there were no grammar rules."

While it may be true that Sarah Palin has discarded the rules of English and is improvising furiously, I've read William Shakespeare, and she, Sarah Palin, is no William Shakespeare.

Camille: You're transparently, painfully, chronically eager to play the contrarian, to fly in the face of "liberal orthodoxies," to knock your fellow intellectuals and academics down a peg. Do you do it to sustain yourself, to define yourself and find a reason to survive? You just do it for fun, in the end, don't you? Admit it.

Here's a quote from Sarah Palin at the vice-presidential debate:

"I'm not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet. But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"

She doesn't want to argue about the causes but wants to "positively affect the impacts"?!

Camille, how dare you undermine the importance of coherent thought and diction 1) as a person of coherent thought and diction, 2) for any reason whatsoever, and 3) in a potential president of the United States!? You have made a career out of your own athletic, virtuosic command of language. It is a hypocritical, cynical and PERVERSE game that you are playing by lending your own linguistic skills in defense of someone who is plainly struggling to form more than one sentence at a time that makes any sense at all. We're trapped in the hackneyed forms of our upper-middle-class syntax, are we? You've got a worse problem altogether. You're so good with words that you can eloquently disparage eloquence. And you can't resist the temptation.

Something also needs to be said about Palin's character, apart from her mind. You praise her "frontier grit and audacity," which suggests that she has some deep-seated, indomitable spirit. I think it's more likely you were seduced, like so many others, by the notion of a lipsticked hot girl shooting a moose. She has - in collaboration with McCain campaign handlers - withdrawn almost completely from media inquiry (not that she was too engaged to begin with). For the sake of argument, let's say the media are biased to the left, that they might set traps for Palin, that Katie Couric is a "viper." This is still the "filter," to coin Palin's term, through which the people in a free society learn about their politicians, their country, the world. For a vice-presidential candidate to respond to journalists' questions so incoherently and opaquely, then to cry "foul," and ultimately to recoil from the media with a month to go before this crucial election is shallow and craven in the highest degree. Barack Obama went on O'Reilly!

Camille, for Christ's sake. This person wants to be vice president of the United States. I know it's cute and fun and cheeky to be as smart as you are and yet to elevate stupidity. (I think you tipped your hand when you wrote, "As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn." A self-hating genius! Who knew.) But here's the problem: There is a culture in our country, I'm sure you'll agree, that is wary of intellectuals the way people once were (and in some cases still are) wary of blacks, or of Jews. I'm going to try not to point my snobbish finger at any particular group right now, but I think you'd be hard pressed to deny that a very big part of the George W. Bush phenomenon, and thus a key reason we are in such dire straits today at home and abroad, is that Bush and his ilk managed to demonize book smarts, intellectualism, Ph.D.'s and so on as elite, effete, out of touch, you know, gay. (I wonder if Palin's church has a program for sinners to "journey away" from thought.) You should be careful what you're promoting as you laugh heartily at your TV set. Don't underestimate the hysterical venom that the Bush era has actually managed to inspire in Americans against people like you - like us. Don't we agree that we need a change, at last?

You celebrate Sarah Palin's vitality and underestimate her stupidity at our peril.