The Corner

Palin and the American Character



Jacob Heilbrunn has a review of Palin’s new book at The National Interest. The following passage really caught my attention:


Her memoir suggests that her suspicion of elites surely has its origins in her childhood membership in the Assemblies of God, the world’s biggest Pentecostal church whose members often engage in the practice of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. Palin calls it the most “alive” church in Wasilla, where she soaked up fire-breathing sermons. The hockey mom has never attended a hierarchical church that claims sacerdotal authority. Instead, the emphasis on an unmediated, direct access to God may help explain why not much seems to impress Palin apart from her own intuition. Palin, who after attending one college after another finally landed a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Idaho, makes it abundantly clear that she is wholly unimpressed by diplomas, expertise, science (a subject that her own father, who, she hastily notes, was no churchgoer, taught).


In its context, it’s rather clear that Heilbrunn does not intend this passage as a compliment. But didn’t liberals, from Emerson onward, prize exactly the sort of personality he is describing? The person who doesn’t let herself be told what to believe by sacerdotal authorities? Who walks according to her inner light, to the beat of her own drummer, and doesn’t trust anybody over the age of 30?  (And as for being unimpressed with science, I seem to recall that when Whitman “heard the learn’d astronomer,” he rather quickly “grew tired and sick.”) I grew up loving this particular liberal tradition, one that’s very deep in the American grain; it’s America’s answer to the Old World’s traditionalist cult of authority, and I think we should continue to prize it. By all means knock Palin, if you want to, but not for things we should celebrate.


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